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UPDATED: Provincial exams will go ahead, regular classes unlikely for Monday and beyond

Walking the picket line on Wednesday are teachers Margaret Carmichael and Gayle Abbott-Mackie. - Kathy Santini
Walking the picket line on Wednesday are teachers Margaret Carmichael and Gayle Abbott-Mackie.
— image credit: Kathy Santini

Parents worried that a pending teachers’ strike will mean their children will be unable to write their provincial exams can breathe a sigh of relief, following a ruling yesterday by B.C.’s Labour Relations Board.

In its order, the LRB said provincial exams for Grades 10 to 12 students will proceed and final grades for Grade 12 students must be compiled and submitted no later than June 20.

It ordered school districts to consult with their local teachers’ association regarding the number of teachers needed to monitor the provincial exams from June 16 to 24, after using as many of its own management and excluded staff to do so.

Joe Rhodes, School District No. 79’s superintendent, said a meeting will be held tonight to determine how many of his staff can be used to meet the order. Tomorrow morning he’ll meet with local teachers’ association representatives to discuss how many teachers, if any, are needed to ensure provincial exams are held.

In its order, the LRB said that if the parties can’t come to an agreement, it will hear the matter on Monday and make a decision the same day.

Today’s order also provides that local teachers’ unions provide unrestricted access to people covered by the order, as well as other essential services. Teachers cannot picket entrances where provincial exams are being held.

The British Columbia Public School Employers Association (BCPSEA) expects an essential services order for support staff will be issued later today.

The LRB said it would address the remaining issue concerning the submission of marks for Grade 10 and 11 students when it receives a request to do so.

This week, B.C. teachers voted in favour of a full walkout to put maximum pressure on the provincial government, and issued a 72-hour strike notice on Thursday.

If contract talks — which are expected to start again on Friday, according to Cowichan Valley Teachers Association president Naomi Nilsson — are not successful, teachers could legally strike this Tuesday.  On Monday they plan to hold a study session, if an agreement isn’t reached during the weekend, and consequently won’t be at school.

“I’m anticipating that students will have the day off and be at home on Monday,” Rhodes said.

On June 9 and 10, teachers voted 86% in favour of strike action, or 28,809 out of 33,387 ballots cast.

Cowichan Valley teachers voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike, their association’s president said Wednesday, along with their provincial counterparts.

“I can’t give you a breakdown on the Cowichan district’s numbers because of BCTF policies,” Nilsson said. “But it was the strongest ‘yes’ vote in CVTA (Cowichan Valley Teachers’ Association) history.”

British Columbia Teachers’ Association (BCTF) president Jim Iker said that this week’s vote made it clear B.C. teachers care deeply about the state of public education and their ability to meet the needs of all their students. As well, it showed how firmly teachers are committed to doing what’s necessary to reach a fair deal.

“After 12 years of deep cuts, 3,500 teaching positions lost, and 200 schools closed, we are urging this government to reinvest in public education,” he said. “Teachers are doing their utmost in an underfunded and under-resourced system, but students are not getting the support or one-on-one time they need. Our kids deserve so much more.”

Earlier this week, Education Minister Peter Fassbender urged  the BCTF’s leadership to come to the table with realistic expectations and a willingness to engage in meaningful bargaining.

“Teachers deserve a raise but their total compensation demands are about four times more than other recent settlements,” he said.

The government has saved $12 million in salaries in each week of the teachers’ rotating strike, plus nearly $5 million more by cutting wages 10 per cent based on lockout-restricted teaching hours.

The province has offered a $1,200 signing bonus if teachers accept its proposal of 7.25 per cent in wage increases over six years by June 30.

The BCTF’s latest proposal is for increases totaling 9.75 per cent over four years, plus cost-of-living adjustments in each year tied to inflation.

The two sides have differing estimates of the compounded grand total of the union’s wage demand – the BCTF estimates it at 12.75 per cent over four years, while BCPSEA pegs it at 14.7 per cent and says other non-wage compensation costs will further increase the bill, perhaps beyond 19 per cent.

 

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