After a month of talks, school support workers and the province have reached agreement on a framework agreement under the government's co-operative gains mandate.
The framework allows for a modest wage increase of 3.5 per cent over two years, although that will have to be funded from savings found within existing school district budgets, a requirement of the government's 2012 co-operative gains mandate.
However, John Hall, president of CUPE Local 3500, cautioned that the framework still needed ratification, first at the executive level, then by the membership.
The president's council, comprised of 35 local presidents, was to have voted on the agreement Thursday afternoon, but results were not available by press time.
Lack of a negotiated provincial framework was delaying talks between School District 73 and CUPE Local 3500, said district supt. Terry Sullivan. When union members ratify the contract, which could take place within the next couple of weeks, the door opens for a settlement here.
"That's now the next step for us, to sit down and negotiate a collective agreement with the union local," Sullivan said.
Provincewide, the framework covers 33,000 support staff represented by 69 bargaining units.
The framework includes a one per cent boost retroactive to July 1, a 2.5 per cent increase on Feb. 1, 2014 and a final hike of half a per cent next May.
Schools in some parts of the province were bracing for a strike that could have occurred as early as Monday amid fears that teachers would refuse to cross picket lines.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender said Thursday the negotiations were not easy.
"There is still a lot of work ahead," he said in a statement.
"School districts will need to develop savings plans to pay for the agreement and 69 different union locals will seek approval from their members before final ratifications. We expect the ratification process will move more quickly in some districts than in others."
The public school employees, including education assistants, clerical staff, trades workers and bus drivers have been without a contract for more than a year.
Members in 57 of the bargaining units belong to CUPE, and the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 963, represents the 12 other locals, which include people who work in trades.
Bill Pegler, CUPE's kindergarten-to-Grade 12 co-ordinator, said the union fought to have concessions removed from the bargaining table since it began bargaining last November.
It also asked for a wage hike of four per cent in line with the pattern established by other public-sector settlements in the post-secondary sector, Pegler said.
"What we ended up with was slightly less and that's what our presidents are studying today."
The contract for the deal, which expires in June 2014, must be ratified by the end of December.
The union will start negotiating again in the spring, Pegler said.
Negotiations between the teachers' union and the government's bargaining agent have been on hold pending a court case.
The B.C. Teachers Federation has taken the government to court seeking damages over its decision to strip the teachers' contract in 2002, a move the Supreme Court of Canada ruled was unconstitutional.
Bargaining is expected to resume in October.