Teachers to start contract talks Feb. 4

The head of the B.C. teachers' union says an agreement on how contract talks will be structured with the government's bargaining agent may cut through the toxic relationship that has hobbled previous negotiations.

Susan Lambert said Saturday that about 200 elected teachers from across the province voted unanimously to ratify the agreement, which was also accepted by the board of directors for the B.C. Public School Employers Association.

Contract talks will begin Feb. 4.

"To have this positive agreement prior to the start of bargaining is very heartening," Lambert said.

The teachers' current two-year contract expires in June and was reached after an entire school year of job action that had teachers refusing to fill out report cards and stage a three-day walkout.

The agreement voted on Saturday calls for a timeline to facilitate negotiations.

A facilitator will also be involved from the beginning of the process, Lambert said.

Both sides negotiated the proposed agreement in December, and the employer's spokeswoman, Debra Stewart, said the board of directors voted on it Saturday during their annual general meeting, which happened to be when teachers also met for their vote.

Stewart said she could not comment further on the agreement that outlines the negotiating process.

It stipulates that issues such as posting vacant teaching jobs, filling vacancies and transferring and laying off teachers will be discussed by local school districts, not at the provincial bargaining table.

Lambert said discussing such issues at the provincial bargaining table for more than 20 years hasn't worked for districts that vary so much in size and that grievances have piled up.

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