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Teachers must move into the 'zone of affordability' says education minister

A series of rallies in support of striking teachers, like this one at Five Corners, have been held in Chilliwack recently. Education minister Peter Fassbender confirmed with The Progress that the provincial government is feeling the heat at this point. - JENNIFER FEINBERG/ PROGRESS
A series of rallies in support of striking teachers, like this one at Five Corners, have been held in Chilliwack recently. Education minister Peter Fassbender confirmed with The Progress that the provincial government is feeling the heat at this point.
— image credit: JENNIFER FEINBERG/ PROGRESS

Education minister Peter Fassbender confirmed the provincial government is feeling the heat at this point.

The dispute that has pitted the B.C. Teachers' Federation against the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, has seen the parties drift further apart recently.

"I would describe it this way: We want children in school," the education minister told The Progress.

"We want families to be able to function again with their kids in school; to be able to carry on with their lives. We're feeling the pressure of that not happening, certainly.

"But we need to remember that this is the BCTF's strike, not ours."

Asked if the minister was worried that parents will gravitate to the private education sector out of frustration, he said he was not worried.

"I have a lot of faith in the public education system," replied Fassbender. "My grandkids go to public schools. Parents have a right to make a choice. They will have to weigh those factors."

With all parties stymied to this degree, what is it going to actually take to have this teachers' strike end decisively?

"It's going to take the union coming forward with a realistic wage and benefits package that brings them into the same affordability zone as other public sector unions."

It would take the willingness to negotiate, and maybe enter into mediation for other issues, and put the strike action on hold while they do that, he said.

Last week a proposal put before the BCTF president and chief negotiator for BCPSEA, to suspend things in a two-week timeout for school to begin, was rejected by the union.

"We would have had a two-week period to see if the BCTF could come into the affordability zone, and we could see if the mediator was willing to book the parties into full mediation," Fassbender said.

He been busy this week, myth-busting and correcting misconceptions out there about the province's position.

"It's been suggested we are not willing to go into mediation, but we absolutely are, if the mediator accepts that it is possible, and if he determines that it is warranted."

Tentative steps in this direction ended when Vince Ready stepped away from exploratory talks without a negotiated agreement, saying the parties were too far apart.

"But the suggestion that government is therefore unwilling to commit to mediation, is not correct," he underlined.

The other major misconception is the suggestion they're unwilling to negotiate on class size and composition in the wake of court decisions, which are under appeal, he noted.

"Indeed we are," he said about the last proposal that was put in writing, with $375 million specifically to address those all-important class size and composition issues.

"But so far the union has not been willing to take our proposal or offer to their membership.

"It was a very sincere offer on my part, to get the students back in classrooms, and get teachers teaching."

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/chwkjourno

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