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Mediator gets involved in teacher contract talks



B.C. teachers and their employers have agreed to get a veteran mediator involved in the hopes of resolving an impasse in contract talks.

The BCTF met with Stephen Kelleher for the second time on Wednesday. He has also met with the B.C. Pubic School Employers’ Association.

"Our position is that the way to resolve these problems is through negotiation," said B.C. Teachers Federation president David Chudnovsky.

"Our assessment was maybe it is time for somebody who has some experience in this type of thing to come in and help."

A recent fact-finders report by the provincial government found that the two sides were still far apart on key issues.

"We’ve got an employer which still takes the position that fundamental services to children are on the table," said Chudnovsky.

"They still propose that the guarantee of class size limits be removed, that the guarantee of specialist teachers be removed, and that the guarantee of support for children with special needs be removed.

"And there is a dispute on salaries.

"The employer, on those issues, takes the same position they’ve taken since the minute they’ve put them on the table."

Ken Denike, chairman of the BCPSEA said: "We need to get negotiations moving.

"The facilitator, Stephen Kelleher, is a well respected and experienced labour relations practitioner and we are committed to working with him though this process."

But added Denike: "The proposals that the BCTF have on the table still far exceed the over $300 million that we have available for this round of bargaining."

Both sides are anxious for a settlement.

The union fears the government may impose a contract they don’t consider "fair," while the employers’ association fears an imposed settlement may call into question their usefulness. The BCPSEA hasn’t negotiated a single contract since it was created in 1994.

The union, this week, also asked the Labour Relations Board to continue their review of services they are allowed to withdraw under the current essential services law.

"Our expectation is that they will look at the issue of extracurricular activities," said Chudnovsky.

"We are, of course, always looking at our options but there is no particular significance to this except that it is the next step in the adjudication process.

"Then, after that, there will probably be hearings on what might be considered more traditional strike actions."

Meanwhile the teachers’ job action has resulted in the cancellation of the Christmas concert at Myrtle Philip.

"It is disappointing of course because it has been a tradition in the school," said principal Bob Daly.

"But we will just have to work around it. There will be classroom activities and they will take all sorts of different forms.

"And we do have the school-wide writing day (today). This is the afternoon where children’s parents come in with them and write letters to Santa."