Teachers, province reach tentative deal

Local teachers welcome improved benefits

B.C. teachers and the provincial government have reached a tentative deal to end their ongoing contract dispute after weeks of intense negotiations with a provincially-appointed mediator.

The deal, which still needs to be voted on by teachers, offers modest gains in benefits for teachers, and avoids changes to seniority and professional development sought by the B.C. Public School Employers Association, the government’s bargaining agent.

“We didn’t hit a home run,” said Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George. “But we managed to avoid a lot of the concessions BCPSEA was asking for.”

If approved, the deal will mean an end to the ongoing job action by teachers, including the return of extracurricular activities for students.

Premier Christy Clark told reporters Wednesday morning the agreement will bring peace of mind to many parents and students.

“This tentative agreement means parents and students can enjoy the summer break and know that when school resumes in the fall there will be certainty in the classroom, with the focus being on the children,” she said.

Locally, voting will likely take place after an MRTA general meeting planned for Thursday, Serra said, with province-wide results available Friday evening.

Serra said the improvements in benefits will be of particular interest to local teachers.

“For years Maple Ridge has been at the bottom of the barrel compared to [other school districts],” he said.

School District No. 42 secretary treasurer Wayne Jefferson said the deal is good for all parties involved, and encouraged teachers to vote in favour of the deal.

“We are hopeful that this will translate into some stability,” he said. “We believe that ratification of the agreement is in the best interest of both parties. Nothing good can come of not ratifying it.”

Jefferson added that the costs to the local school district of harmonizing provincial benefits will be covered by the provincial government.

If the teachers don’t approve the contract offer, the province will be forced to legislate a contract, and that could result in contract stripping, Serra warned.

The two-year deal is retroactive to June 2011, and will expire in one year.

While teachers failed to win salary increases, more local bargaining, or improved class size and composition, Serra said everything will all be on the table when negotiations pick up again in March for the next contract, unlike this round of negotiations.

The provincial government’s net-zero mandate, which calls for a public sector wage freeze, will expire in 2013, as will provisions in Bill 22 that took class size and composition off the bargaining table until 2013.

Serra said he expects the NDP to take power after the May 2013 provincial election, and is optimistic about the prospect of contract negotiations with the labour party.

“The NDP has a different attitude when it comes to teachers,” he said. “Their relationship with unions isn’t as confrontational.”

An Ipsos Reid poll released June 14 found support for the provincial NDP at 48 per cent, well ahead of the Liberals at 29 per cent, and Conservatives at 16 per cent.

However, with class size and composition back on the table, and teachers looking for pay increases, the NDP will have a difficult time negotiating a new contract while trying to balance the budget, Serra predicts.

“The Liberals have saddled the NDP with this… they’re passing the buck,” he said. “But if we want to maintain a world-class public education system, we’re going to have to pay for it.”

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