For two weeks, BC teachers have been calling on government and the BC Public School Employers’ Association to enter mediation. For the past week, I have been meeting with BCPSEA’s Peter Cameron and Mr. Justice Stephen F. Kelleher of the BC Supreme Court in exploratory discussions. I am very grateful that the BC Supreme Court granted Justice Kelleher leave to facilitate these discussions and for his willingness to act as mediator.
Unfortunately, mediation at this time will not be productive. The government, by trying to impose a series of unworkable preconditions prior to entering into mediation, has not provided the flexibility required to make mediation work. The preconditions would have predetermined the outcome.
The BCTF has made a number of significant moves to bring the two sides closer together, including a salary proposal that puts the two sides within 1%. Teachers have been looking for government to respond with counterproposals that would improve learning conditions for students like class size, class composition, and staffing levels for specialist teachers.
Successful collective bargaining requires flexibility, an open mind, and a willingness to bring creative ideas to the table. Teachers called for mediation to help facilitate those kinds of ideas. However, the government insisted that teachers accept proposals that would limit bargaining before even entering mediation. When teachers proposed a compromise that would have brought the two sides even closer to make mediation work, the government rejected that compromise. That is not a fair or reasonable process.
The government wants teachers to accept wage demands before they will even disclose their new proposals on class size and composition. That is unacceptable. At no point during these exploratory talks did the government offer any new money for class size, class composition, or staffing levels for specialist teachers.
At this point, with the government maintaining entrenched positions that are unfair and unreasonable, mediation will not be able to move forward. We will keep the lines of communication open in July to restart bargaining if the government is ready to make a real effort and bring the necessary funding to the table. If not, BC teachers will try again in August, with the new school year looming, to reengage Justice Kelleher and the government in meaningful and fair mediation.