By Joshua Estabrooks

Pioneer Staff

As students throughout the Columbia Valley return to school this month, their teachers are still looking to negotiate a new contract to improve work conditions and increase salaries.

Doug Murray

The existing contract between the B.C. Teachers Federation and the province ended in June. That one was not working due to the governments refusal to allow for negotiation on class size and composition, said Doug Murray, of the Windermere Teachers Association.

Teachers are asking for control over their classes back, said Mr. Murray, as well as wage increases and a more updated benefit system. The union breaks down their needs into four points: teaching conditions that support all students; a fair and reasonable salary; respect for the profession; and local solutions for local conditions.

The province has come to the negotiating table with a zero increase policy on salaries, applied to all public sectors, said Education Minister George Abbott.

The net zero mandate that we have taken to the bargaining table is not one that is going to be subject to adjustment, said Minister Abbott. When we look at the 13 jurisdictions in Canada, depending on what comparative factors you use, British Columbia teachers could be as high as third or, arguably, perhaps as low as seventh in terms of comparatives around wages. But whether were third or seventh or any other position, British Columbia, just like every other jurisdiction in the western world, is going through a period of very difficult economic adjustment.

B.C. teachers rank eighth in the country in terms of pay, but have some of the highest costs of living, said Mr. Murray. They really just want the ability to negotiate effectively, he added, but the way the government has set up the bargaining table it makes it very difficult.

If we go to the bargaining table and they say Theres no money involved, how do you negotiate? he said.

We want more respect for our profession. We want to be able to bargain with people from our board office, but they dont want to do that. We go to the bargaining table here and they say they cant discuss it because it is all provincial.

Local MLA, Norm Macdonald, also feels the province should be doing more to find real solutions for its teachers.

It is time for the government to roll up its sleeves and get to work on making our public school system the best it can be, he said. That means working positively with teachers, who are absolutely key in the success of our system thus far. The government must address the teachers concerns around class size and composition because these inadequate learning conditions are having a detrimental effect on childrens learning across the province.

Until an agreement is reached, teachers will not be doing any administrative work, which includes filling out forms, collecting data, meeting with principals or supervising playgrounds, Mr. Murray said.

They will be teaching and engaging in regular extracurricular activities, so parents and students shouldnt notice any changes to their routine. If the job action continues into report card season, Mr. Murray said that teachers will be filling them out the way they wish, not necessarily the way the administration requires. Mr. Murray wouldnt say when, or if, the job action would enter a second phase.