B.C. Premier Christy Clark was in Pitt Meadows Friday to honour the city’s 100 citizens of the century but couldn’t escape questions about the potential of a full-scale strike by public school teachers.
Following a short speech and group photograph with the feted 100, Clark was asked if the government was bringing anything new to the table since bargaining resumed this week between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.
The BCTF has already scheduled a third week of rotating strikes, which will close public schools in every district in B.C. for one day next week, starting on Tuesday. Schools in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will be closed Thursday.
Teachers will also vote Monday and Tuesday on increased job action that could include a full-scale strike as early as June 16.
“Bargaining can happen without job action,” said Clark, to a packed room at the South Bonson Community Centre.
“My hope would be that the union comes to the table ready to bargain and get it solved.”
Clark agreed that class size and composition – two issues the government removed from from the bargaining process – are areas that need to be improved in B.C.’s public schools.
“The problem that we have always had at bargaining is the bargaining always becomes about the wage issue first and those other issues second. I would like to get these wage issues settled as soon as we can, then it will allow us to talk about kids,” said Clark, a remark followed by a loud round of applause from the audience.
BCTF president Jim Iker wants a one on one meeting with Clark but she ruled that out for the moment.
“I think the bargaining needs to happen at the bargaining table with the bargainers. The government has made some pretty big moves in the last couple of weeks,” said Clark.
Earlier this week, the union reduced its wage demands from a 15.9 per cent increase over four years to 14 per cent over four years, including increases for the cost of living.
The government is offering 7.25 per cent over six years plus $1,200 signing bonus.
Clark noted her B.C. Liberal government has settled agreements with 40 per cent of the public sector in the past five years.
“Teachers deserve a raise too,” she added.
“I think we can get there but we have to decide we are going to roll up our sleeves, be serious about bargaining and decide there is a will to get this done without putting kids in the middle of the fight.”