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Final exams will be marked

The labour relations board has ruled that strike-bound teachers must be available to supervise provincial exams scheduled for students in grades 10 through 12 -- if they are needed -- between June 16 to 24.

Included in the ruling is a guarantee that provincial exams for senior students will all be marked and final grades will be ready for graduating students. 

The ruling came on the heels of the BC Teachers' Federation serving 72 hours' strike notice for teachers to be on the picket line by Tuesday, potentially ending the school year more than two weeks early.

But a third week of one-day rotating strikes through school districts across the province means that, barring a weekend deal, Thursday is the last day of school for students whose schools are closed Friday, leaving many families in the lurch to find child care.

Union president Jim Iker said teachers will be off-site Monday for "study sessions" where they will discuss their union's revised proposals, including wage demands.

The union and the employers' association are far apart on several issues, including wages and classroom conditions.

The union has been asking for a 9.75 increase over four years, but Iker would not reveal the new proposal Thursday. The employers' association has offered a 7.3-per-cent hike over six years, along with a $1,200 signing bonus if a deal is reached before the end of June.

"You know what my hope is, actually? That at those study sessions on Monday our members will be looking at a settlement deal and see if it works for them," Iker told a news conference Thursday morning.'

The union announced on Tuesday teachers had voted 86 per cent in favour of launching a full-scale walkout after 16 months of contract negotiations.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said Thursday that the strike notice was not unexpected, but acknowledged that students and parents are stressed by the situation.

He said the government will be at the bargaining table over the weekend to try and avert a strike, but that the union must sit down "with reasonable responses to find a settlement."

Iker said the union will not budge on what has been the biggest stumbling block in negotiations: demands for smaller classes and composition, which includes specialist teachers for students with learning difficulties.

The government has docked 10 per cent of teachers' pay during job action and imposed a partial lockout that barred them from coming to work more than 45 minutes before classes start or stay later than 45 minutes after classes end.

It also announced it would lock out all secondary school teachers on June 25 and 26, with all teachers fully locked out on June 27.

Iker said that has prevented teachers from doing their job and "created a lot of chaos, a lot of confusion" though he's hoping a deal can be reached to avert the full-scale walkout next week.

"Let's get this deal this weekend, and there won't be a full-scale strike. We end the lockout. That's what we want."

The government initially proposed a 10-year contract but then pulled back to a six-year agreement, which the union still rejected in favour of a four-year deal.

While the union has said it's asking for a 9.75 per cent wage increase, the government claims the figure is closer to 19 per cent when cost-of-living increases and other benefits are included.

The Canadian Press

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