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Teachers asked to suspend strike

A highly-anticipated meeting between both sides in the B.C. teachers’ dispute Wednesday did not ensure a timely start to the school year, but did provide a ray of hope that classes could be in session next week.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender brought B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker and B.C. Public School Employers’ Association chief negotiator Peter Cameron together at the Victoria Legislature, but no deal was reached to end the months-long teachers’ strike.

Fassbender did call on the employers to suspend their lockout, and on teachers to suspend their strike for two weeks provided the sides can enter into mediation.

“We are not asking either the BCTF or BCPSEA to give up their right to strike or lockout,” Fassbender said in a press release. “We are just asking them to voluntarily stand down and let classes start while the parties are in mediation.”

It’s unclear when mediation might begin, however. The decision remains in the hands of veteran mediator Vince Ready, who previously declined to wade into the dispute because the parties were too far apart.

Ready told CTV Vancouver he's meeting with Iker and Cameron on Thursday afternoon in Richmond to discuss a "framework for negotiations," but that it's too early to speculate on whether mediation will be feasible.

Iker spoke to reporters after emerging from Wednesday's meeting, but didn't comment on whether the union would agree to suspend the strike.

“I’m hoping that kids can be back in school, that teachers can be back at school, and the way for that to happen is to get a deal," Iker said.

To increase the chances of entering into mediation, Fassbender also asked the sides to shelve the issue of grievances stemming from a January B.C. Supreme Court decision, which ruled the province had provoked teachers into a strike and failed to negotiate in good faith.

"The demand on potential grievances is nearly a quarter of a billion dollars a year. This matter is before the courts and will be addressed through the appeals process," the minister said.

Justice Susan Griffin ordered the government to pay $2 million in damages in her decision, and ruled B.C. legislation that eliminated teachers’ right to bargain on class size and composition was unconstitutional.

It was the second Supreme Court ruling to find the law unconstitutional, though the government has said it will appeal the decision.

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