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Updated: Sat, 30 Aug 2014 15:22:29 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

B.C. teachers' strike: sides are 'long ways apart,' mediator says



Veteran mediator Vince Ready remains in talks with all sides in the B.C. teachers' strike, as they hold a marathon multi-day session in Richmond, B.C. He said Friday night that the parties are far from a resolution. CBC

Veteran mediator Vince Ready remains in talks with all sides in the B.C. teachers' strike, as they hold a marathon multi-day session in Richmond, B.C. He said Friday night that the parties are far from a resolution. CBC

Mediator Vince Ready says the two sides in the B.C. teachers' strike are "a long ways apart," but he has agreed to stay involved in a second day of talks.

"I’ve been discussing whether we can get a framework so we can get this dispute resolved, and so far we haven't done that," Ready told CBC News. "The parties are still a long ways apart."

Bargaining committees from both sides met at a hotel in Richmond, B.C., on Friday.

School districts in the province are still holding off on announcing whether classes will be cancelled for the planned start of the school year on Tuesday.

The B.C. Federation of Labour is urging the government to deal with class sizes and provide more support for special needs students.

Jordan Tinney, superintendent of the Surrey School District, has sent out a letter to parents, saying his district could still open schools for Tuesday's scheduled back-to-class if a deal is reached as late as Monday evening.

B.C.’s 40,000 public school teachers went on strike two weeks before the end of the previous school year, leaving half a million students locked out of classrooms before summer vacation.

Last ditch proposal

Ready agreed earlier this month to work with the groups, but said real mediation can't start until teachers and government are closer to agreeing to terms.

After a summer of stalled negotiations, meetings were held Thursday after B.C. Teachers' Federation President Jim Iker and head negotiator for the school districts Peter Cameron met with B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender on Wednesday — a meeting that appeared to offer hope that meaningful talks between the two sides could begin.

At that meeting, Fassbender proposed both sides put on hold the specific issues that are currently the subject of an ongoing court battle.

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He also proposed if mediated talks can begin on the remaining issues, that the strike and lockout be suspended for two weeks to reopen schools for the start of school.

But Fassbender said Iker told him in the meeting he would need to consult the union executive before responding. The minister said Iker also told him teachers would need to vote before the strike would be suspended.

On Thursday, Fassbender called on Iker to canvass teachers in advance of Sept. 2 on the idea of suspending pickets if Vince Ready is engaged in mediation.

"There are only a few days ahead for Mr. Iker to seek a mandate from teachers on this idea," said Fassbender.

"I think parents, students and communities would like to know whether the BCTF is willing to let schools open and allow teachers to work while mediator Vince Ready helps the parties to negotiate an agreement.

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The fight over Bill 28

The legal battle to which Fassbender is referring is the ongoing fight over Bill 28,  legislation which the Liberal government introduced in 2002 that took away teachers' ability to bargain class size and composition.

Recently the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the legislation was illegal, and ordered the government to settle with the teachers. But the government is now appealing that ruling.

Fassbender, who estimates teachers' legal grievances amount to $225 million a year in additional funding, is now asking the teachers to put those issues aside while they wait for the legal appeals to be exhausted.

"Put that aside for the sake of this process, because it will run its normal course, and we'll see what comes out of it at that point," said Fassbender on Thursday morning.

But a Ministry of Education spokesman insists the government is still willing to discuss class size and composition in negotiations.

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