Wage increases, faster tenures, more teachers and smaller classes are just four of the demands that the province will have to meet if it wants to avoid a province-wide teachers strike.
The 42,000 members of the B.C. Teachers Federation voted on whether to strike earlier this week, and the results of the voting should be made public on Friday. Some sort of strike action could begin as early as Monday.
The teachers have been without a contract since the last government-imposed contract expired in 2004. Since then 35 bargaining sessions between the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers Association have come and gone without a new agreement, or any discernable progress.
Its still unclear what kind of job action the teachers can take after the Campbell government declared teaching an essential service and legislated teachers back to work in 2001. The B.C. Labour Relations Board will rule on what actions are legal this week.
One possibility is the return of work to rule. Teachers will conduct all regular classes normally, but will not offer any extra-curricular services like remedial tutoring and coaching for sports teams.
While teachers are asking for smaller classes, more English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers, and more teacher-librarians, the central issue in this job action is money.
B.C. Teachers have had their wages frozen for the past three years, as have most public sector employees. The government wants to continue that policy through March of 2006, at which point the province has pledged to deliver raises that "reflect market conditions" and are sustainable over the long-term.
The teachers have not specified how much of a raise they are looking for, but using recent wage increases in Ontario and Alberta as a model, as well as the cost of living, demands are expected to be in the neighbourhood of 10 to 13 per cent.
According to the Public School Employers Association, meeting the teachers demands would increase education costs by approximately 35 per cent. The teachers union disagrees with that figure.
While the labour minister met with both sides in Victoria on Monday, its unlikely that an agreement can be reached in time to avert job action.
As recently as Sept. 15, the BCPSEA said a negotiated settlement was unlikely.
"The likelihood of reaching a negotiated deal at the table with the B.C. Teachers Federation is remote, said BCPSEA Chair Ron Christensen.
"Although weve had 35 bargaining sessions to date, the parties are very far apart. There has been no agreement on any of the items on the table."
Christensen points out that the province has reached over 100 agreements with public sector departments under a net zero compensation mandate, with the public sector effectively agreeing to temporary wage freezes until the situation can be reassessed in 2006. The BCTF has said that it wont even negotiate a settlement under the zero compensation guidelines.