By Angela Espinoza, News Editor
On September 18, after nearly four months of protests and negotiations, the BC teachers’ strike ended with an 86 per cent vote in favour of proposed changes. Public elementary, middle, and high school students returned to classes on Monday.
After earlier failed negotiations with mediator Vince Ready weeks before, Ready returned on September 13 to help BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) members and members of the BC Liberal party find an appropriate solution. In the early hours of September 16, Ready announced a potential deal had been reached by both parties, and that teachers would be voting on it by that Thursday.
The resolution of the strike sees the teachers sign a six-year deal. The contract states that wages will be increased by 7.25 per cent over the course of their six-year pact. Each year will see a portion of that percentage applied to salaries, the lowest at 0.5 per cent and highest at two per cent. Additionally, teacher-on-call rates were increased and health benefits were improved for members of the BCTF. An education fund consisting of $400 million, also to be spent over six years, was achieved for funding additional hiring of specialist teachers and to benefit class sizes and composition.
One of the most important benefits of the deal is the removal of proposals E80 and E81, acts that—in some form—have been the cause of many previous teachers’ strikes. E80 and E81 were acts set in place to prevent the BCTF from debating class size, composition, and the hiring of specialist teachers. Three Supreme Court cases have debated the removal of the acts, two of which the BCTF have won—with the Liberal government owing the BCTF a current total of $250 million—and a third case currently underway.
However, even with all the improved benefits and changes supporting the BCTF, many are still not happy. Again, 13 per cent of BCTF members voted against the changes, and many were left questioning.
“We all know that this deal isn’t perfect, but it does provide gains for teachers. It protects our charter rights and increases support for our students,” BCTF president Jim Iker told reporters at a September 19 press conference.
Members of the BCTF were hoping for larger education funds and a permanent solution to keeping the discussion of class size and composition open, which the removal of E80 and E81 does not permanently guarantee.
Robin Holburn, a teacher for Prince of Wales Secondary School in Vancouver told the National Post, “Our negotiating team did the very best it could, I believe … but this is not a good deal for BC students and it’s not a good deal for BC teachers.”
For now, students are back in classes, and Minister of Education Peter Fassbender has stated that neither students nor teachers will have to make up extra time for the first three weeks of missed classes.