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Premier wants deal asap in teachers' dispute

B.C. premier hopes for resolution in teachers' dispute soon after LRB meeting
Christy Clark at Rennie Collection - Wing Sang Building.
BC Premier Christy Clark speaks in Vancouver's Chinatown

By Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - British Columbia's premier is hoping a Labour Relations Board meeting will jumpstart a resolution to the dispute that has families looking for alternative care for their children while teachers walk picket lines.

Christy Clark said Tuesday that the government's negotiators and the teachers' union will meet with the LRB on Thursday over lockout provisions that include a 10 per cent pay cut for teachers.

"I hope we could get this settled in 24 hours, 48 hours, if people would decide not to strike and sit down instead and come to an agreement."

Clark said the two sides must bargain hard to settle their differences because students are put in the middle of the fracas yet again as thousands of teachers stage rotating strikes across the province this week.

"It's not fair for families and children to pay the price of a labour dispute between adults," she said.

Clark said a broken bargaining system has meant several governments have had to legislate teachers back to work over the last 30 years, with only one exception that didn't involve a strike.

In 2006, then-finance minister Carole Taylor offered signing bonuses to several public-sector unions, including the B.C. Teachers' Federation, which agreed to a five-year deal.

Each teacher received a $3,700 signing bonus offered by the government to ensure labour peace in the province during the 2010 Olympics.

In 2012, a government-appointed mediator helped broker a contract, but only after teachers staged a three-day walkout and withdrew from participating in extracurricular activities.

Clark said it's time that the government and the teachers' union came up with new ideas to ensure education isn't disrupted for at least the next 10 years.

She said a past proposal that included automatic wage increases, in keeping with contracts for public-sector workers such as nurses and social workers, would have benefited teachers.

"If we'd been doing that for the last 10 years teachers would be making more money today," she said.

Clark said that once a new agreement is worked out, she wants both sides to work toward coming up with a new bargaining system to prevent more strikes.

"The strike is going to end at some point. It always does. But after 30 years, for heaven's sakes, we need to find a new way to do it."

The teachers' union is demanding a 13.7 per cent wage hike over four years but the government is offering a 7.3 per cent increase over a six-year contract.

The government initially wanted teachers to sign a 10-year contract but backed off, with an offer of a $1,200 signing bonus if a deal is reached by the end of the school year.

When teachers announced rotating one-day strikes for this week, the government said a partial lockout would be implemented, with a 10 per cent pay cut, starting on the day of the job action.

The current contract expired in June 2013.

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