Jim Iker felt surprised by reports Thursday morning that parents could receive $40 a day from the provincial government for children under age 13 if the teachers’ strike continues in September.
“Government seems to be putting more energy into prolonging the lockout and ensuring that the dispute continues in September rather than putting their energies into agreeing to go into mediation with us so we can get a mediated deal at the bargaining table,” said Iker, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.
Media outlets reported Finance Minister Mike De Jong said parents could apply to receive $40 a day. The money would come the money the government is saving by not paying teachers during the strike. De Jong is reported to have said the money is meant to offset childcare costs and that parents would claim the money through a website established by the government.
The Courier was told by a Ministry of Finance spokesperson no related press release would be issued. An interview request with De Jong was not granted Thursday afternoon.
The BCTF and the B.C. Public Service Employees' Association announced July 2 they had agreed on B.C. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Kelleher as mediator in their negotiations. But Kelleher determined mediation “is not indicated at this time,” according to a joint statement emailed by the BCTF.
Iker said Thursday afternoon he hopes mediation can happen this month, that Kelleher is available and both the BCPSEA and the BCTF could make more compromises.
Iker noted the BCTF has compromised on wages so that the terms are only one year apart and the rates only one per cent apart.
“We even moved into the government’s zone on the issue of a workload fund to address class size, class composition and specialist teachers as an interim measure while both sides await for the outcome of the appeal,” he said.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin ruled in January that the government must restore collective bargaining provisions that relate to class size and composition and help provided in classes for special needs. The ruling said language would be returned to teachers’ collective agreement retroactively but would likely be the subject of bargaining. The government is appealing the decision.
The Ministry of Education committed $60 million in its Learning Improvement Fund for 2013-2014. Iker said the BCTF has proposed a workload fund of $225 million, spread over five years. The BCTF wants the money allotted to school districts, which would negotiate with their local teachers union on how the money would be best spent.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender is quoted in a July 16 press release as saying BCPSEA is stands ready to negotiate anytime.
"With or without a mediator, whenever the BCTF is ready to commit to a fair and affordable settlement that is in line with the other public sector agreements to date."