Teachers are hoping mediation, not forced legislation, will settle their labour dispute with government, says Delta Teachers' Association president Paul Steer.
"We see a third-party mediation as holding at least some potential of adverse legislation being avoided. We don't think government should invoke legislation, although the minister of education has speculated quite consistently that legislation is coming," he told the Optimist Monday.
Last Thursday, Minister of Education George Abbott instructed his staff to prepare legislation to end the current dispute. It was to come this week.
His instruction came after a ministry fact finder determined it's "very unlikely" there would be a negotiated settlement.
Steer noted the B.C. Teachers' Federation, hoping to avoid an imposed settlement, had already gone to the Labour Relations Board asking for a third-party mediator. He said a mediator is rarely appointed unless there's consent from both sides. The B.C. Public School Employers Association, the group negotiating on behalf of school boards, has agreed, he said.
BCTF president Susan Lambert also said they are looking for fair alternatives, such as mediation or even arbitration. She added the government, however, has no intention whatsoever of bargaining a collective agreement with teachers.
The federation says since job action began in September, the minister has repeatedly suggested that collective bargaining would not be successful and the legislature would have to act.
The B.C. School Trustees Association's provincial council on the weekend approved a motion urging the provincial government to seek help from a mediator before imposing a contract on teachers. The vote passed by a 32-27 margin.
Meanwhile, the specter of a strike loomed large as the BCTF Monday was to make a presentation to the LRB asking for a ruling on essential service levels and to make an interim order allowing teachers to withdraw instruction four days a week for two weeks.
"The union is trying to be ready for anything. We're not precipitating anything. In going to the Labour Relations Board to seek a ruling on what an escalation might look like, we're seeking to stay within the legalities of the essential services legislation," Steer said.
Delta school trustee Laura Dixon said the board of education is monitoring the situation.
"As always, Delta remains very concerned about preserving our high quality working relationship with our teachers... we certainly would encourage both parties to come to a quick resolution," she said.
The BCTF recently tabled a new bargaining position, calling for a 15 per cent pay hike in a three-year deal. The union has also modified some of its proposals for improved benefits.
The total cost of the union's new proposals is estimated at $300 million.
The union's contract expired last June, but it's made little progress in talks with the BCPSEA.
The BCTF had demanded wages that are in line with those in Alberta and Ontario, a sharp contrast from the BCPSEA's position. Abbott has insisted the teachers' contract abide by the government's net-zero mandate for public sector workers.
Teachers have been involved in limited job action since the start of the new school year, including refusing to write report cards. More recently, they refused to take part in the Foundation Skills Assessment exams administered annually, forcing principals and vice-principals to take on that role.
Teachers took part in "a day of action" Monday, which saw them show up at first bell and immediately leave at last bell.