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COMMENTARY · 4th September 2014
Walter McFarlane
I often make the joke: “Whoever said children are our most important resource is kidding themselves. If they really were, our government would have found a way to ship them to China for processing.”

It is September and the Teachers are back on the picket lines and it is clear there are troubles at the bargaining table.

Minister of Education, Peter Fassbender issued a media release on September 3rd: “The BCTF is asking for nearly twice as much as what other public-sector workers have achieved. They also insist on a $5,000 signing bonus. They need to get realistic about wages and benefits so we can get on with negotiating class size and composition. I worry the BCTF is actually counting on government to legislate an end to this strike so they can avoid having a difficult conversation with their members about what is realistic and achievable.

Our government has been very clear that we have no plans to legislate. That would only keep us on the same dysfunctional treadmill we’ve been on for the past 30 years. As hard as it is, we intend to stand firm and hope the union leadership drops its unrealistic demands so we can negotiate a fair agreement.”

He expressed that wages remain one of the stumbling blocks. He argues that the education system is not in as much trouble as the teachers claim it is.

“We now spend nearly $1 billion more each year than we did 13 years ago - and that’s at a time when we have 70,000 fewer students to serve. Per-pupil funding is up by 38% since 2001. All of the data shows B.C. students are doing better than ever. Graduation rates are up and a range of recent international studies show that B.C. students are, quite simply, among the best in Canada and the best in the world,” wrote Fassbender.

In a press release also dated September 3rd, Jim Iker, president of the BC TF Wrote: Unfortunately, the BC government has not moved in any meaningful way for months. In fact, they have not added a single new dollar to their proposal to improve learning conditions for students since October 2013. That’s 11 months with no movement from this government on the most important issue—more support for children in our classrooms”

Iker also counters some of Fassbender’s points, stating they are a percent a part on salary and a year apart on fixing the education system. He says the education system has been undefended for 12 years and points out it would take a lot of money to fix it.

Iker argues the signing bonus was the BC Governments own idea and represents the fact a year has gone by with no increase and teachers have not had a salary increase since 2010. What is more important is a deal to ensure there are improvements to the student learning conditions for the year. He stated the government is offering status quo.

The BCTF wants a fund to address the learning needs of the students, a fund to remedy the thousands of grievances which could flow from the courts ruling over the government illegally stripping teachers collective agreements.

“They denied our students smaller classes, extra support for students with special needs, and more one-on-one time over the last 12 years,” wrote Iker.

“Instead of finding creative ways to solve the dispute and get schools open, the government is actually trying to prolong the shutdown with their $40-a-day payment scheme. That amounts to $12 million a day and $60 million a week of taxpayers’ money that should be put into the education system to give students and teachers more resources,” wrote Iker

You have heard about those money from your home schemes… How about a money from your children lottery?

The $40 a day will certainly be a payday for some households. According to the application website (found by clicking here), the $40 is per student ages 12 and under who is affected by the school closure. Each student has to be enrolled in a public school for the 2014-2015 year. The money will be paid out as a lump sum after the strike.

“The payment is not taxable and does not impact those receiving other provincial or federal support assistance or benefits, such as: income assistance, child care, housing or medical service plan subsidies, Fair PharmaCare coverage, BC Early Childhood Tax Benefit, BC Low Income Climate Action Tax Credit, Sales Tax Credit, GST credit, Canada Child Tax Benefit,” reads the document.

At forty dollars a day, if the strike persists through September, parents will be paid out $800 for the month per child. Have two qualifying children? That’s a $1600 pay out. Three or more? You just won the lottery.

It may seem a little imbalanced for parents who just miss the cut off dates, particularly those who are already trying to make ends meet as it is, but that is the way the cookie crumbles.

There are some students who are not pleased with this labour action as well. An argument heard earlier this week was that if the teachers care so much about fixing the education system, why are they putting the education of students on the line by prolonging the school closures.

On August 27th, Fassbender asked the negotiators to suspend the strike during the negotiations. “The BCTF refused to suspend their pickets and declined to even canvass their members on the proposal.”

According to Iker, there are several stumbling blocks: The government has been unwilling to bargain at a reasonable pace, the government is entrenched at the table, are inflexible and they are trying to negotiate it’s way out of a court ruling.

"The BC Liberal government is fighting to keep funding out of the education system. Their proposal, E80, would “supersede and replace” all previous class size, class composition, and specialist teacher provisions. They want to nullify what teachers just won back in court and any future court case. It’s an unreasonable stand to take and is preventing both sides from moving forward. This is the single biggest obstacle to getting a deal which would see schools open,” writes Iker.

“In the interim, increase funding to improve learning conditions and negotiate a fair settlement. The government needs to drop E80 and negotiate fairly with teachers so we can end the strike. We have been ready to bargain any time, any day. We’re ready today if the government is willing to sit down, show flexibility, and be willing to compromise. Teachers want to be back at work doing what we love most—teaching. If the government is willing to move in the way that teachers have, we can get this deal done.”

In Kitimat, the teachers will be having a rally on Friday, September 5th from 12-1:30 pm at Centennial Park. Parents, community members and union members are invited to join them to support public education. They are inviting people to bring a pot or pan and a wooden spoon to make some noise.