Education Minister Abbott threatens to impose contract on teachers

assistant deputy minister for industrial relations to lead two-week inquiry into ongoing teacher contract dispute.

The provincial government could legislate the end of job action by B.C. teachers after a two-week inquiry into the negotiations is completed, according to Education Minister George Abbott.

On Thursday, labour minister Margaret MacDiarmid appointed Trevor Hughes, the province’s assistant deputy minister for industrial relations, to lead a two-week inquiry into the ongoing contract dispute and determine if a negotiated outcome is possible.

Teachers across the province have been taking part in ongoing job action since September, when contract talks between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the province’s bargaining agent, the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, broke down last summer. Teachers have been without a contract since June.

At a press conference Thursday, Abbott said he doesn’t believe a negotiated settlement is likely, and that a legislated end to teacher job action is possible after Hughes’s review.

“If the fact-finder determines that there is no prospect of agreement, then government would have to look at a legislated settlement in this matter,” Abbott said. “I hope it doesn’t come to that, but it very well may.”

BCTF president Susan Lambert said she would have preferred an independent arbitrator instead of Hughes.

“Hughes, as the minister’s assistant deputy minister, is not an independent party, and is not capable of providing an independent answer to his minister’s very pointed question,” she said. “We hope that the result of this process is not a predetermined outcome, and is not the first step in the government’s hidden agenda to impose a contract on teachers.”

Abbott, however, contended that there is no hidden agenda.

“We had all hoped that this discussion in 2011-12 would conclude with a successful agreement, as was the case in 2005,” he said. “But… the history of labour relations between the BCTF and governments of all stripes over the past 30 years have been littered with what is often referred to as legislated solutions to impasse.”

The BCTF has proposed a three-year contract that would see teachers given a 15 per cent increase over that span. BCTF estimates the contract will cost an extra $300 million per year, however BCPSEA pegs that number at upwards of $500 million in the first year alone.