Education Update: A Message from Peter Fassbender

Minister Peter Fassbender reads to children (Credit: Facebook)

I’m writing you this evening because I know we’re all unhappy about the teachers’ union’s strike — all of us, students, parents, and teachers. I have grandchildren caught in the middle of this dispute. I understand the challenges this will cause families. This is not where any of us want to be.

From the very start of these negotiations, my goal has been to negotiate an affordable agreement – one that is fair for teachers and taxpayers.

My only motivation is to make sure we get to a settlement so that schools can open, teachers can teach, and students can learn.

This week I called the head of the BCTF, Jim Iker, and the lead negotiator for school districts, Peter Cameron, to my office. I mapped out a path to settlement: set aside the grievances associated with the ongoing court case. That’s before the court so let the courts decide. Focus instead on the issues we can agree on like wages, benefits and putting more educators into classrooms for students.

Unfortunately, the BCTF has stubbornly refused every move we’ve made at the table. Most disappointing, they also refused to allow teachers a chance to vote on going back to work while an agreement is mediated.

We believe teachers deserve an affordable raise – just like 150,000 other public servants who have reached agreements without going on strike. But the BCTF continues to demand nearly twice as much as everyone else. They even want a $5,000 signing bonus – something no other public servant has received. With finite resources, higher wages and expensive benefits for BCTF members means fewer resources for students – plain and simple.

This weekend provides further proof that the BCTF has no intention of reaching an agreement. Instead, they want to pressure government into legislating them back to work. They would prefer to keep kids on this broken treadmill we’ve been on for 30 years. Instead of negotiating a fair deal and selling it to their members, the BCTF keeps demanding more money and benefits not offered to other public sector workers. This is unfair to members of other unions, and more importantly, it means fewer resources available to hire more educators for students.

We have to stand firm — on behalf of the long-term public interest, and on behalf of all British Columbians.

We need a negotiated deal that works for both sides. That’s why our offer includes an affordable wage increase and at least $375 million over five years to address complex classroom needs. We want to focus what funds we have on adding more educators to classrooms to help students learn.

It would be irresponsible to legislate teachers back to work; we would be shelving the same problem for a few short years. The cycle of strike and legislated contract has to end. British Columbians have asked us to balance the budget and keep taxes affordable. That’s a promise we must keep. We will not make cuts to other services people depend on to pay for raises for the BCTF.

We remain committed to negotiating a deal, including reasonable moves on our offer. We will continue to be ready to negotiate should the BCTF decide they’re ready to bargain.

In the interim, we will do everything we can to support parents through this labour disruption. Every parent of a public school student under 13 will be eligible for 40 dollars a day per child for the duration of this strike. If you need it, here’s where you can find more information:

As hard as it is, we have to stand firm until the union is ready to move off their unaffordable demands. Let’s get our students back in school. Let’s get a fair and negotiated settlement at the table without disrupting BC schools and families.

Peter Fassbender
Minister of Education
MLA, Surrey-Fleetwood