Employers' counter-proposal offers little hope in talks with teachers

The province has tabled a counter-offer to the teachers' latest bargaining proposal, a signal to local school trustees that there's still hope for a negotiated end to the ongoing job action.

But the province's bargaining agent, the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, reiterated Thursday that it can't budge from the government's net-zero mandate.

For their part, the province's teachers maintain there's no way they will sign a contract unless more money is put on the table.

"We are still miles apart," said B.C. Teachers' Federation president Susan Lambert.

Association chair Melanie Joy said Thursday it's important to maintain a back and forth between the two sides. In a sense, that means talks are essentially just beginning.

"At least this way we can give them counter proposals and then they can do that in return," said Joy.

The association tabled the latest proposal as the two sides entered their 12th month of talks. The offer includes new language on post and fill positions, layoffs, and parental and compassionate leave.

Joy couldn't provide too many details on the offer because talks are ongoing. But, when it comes to the post and fill debate, the province wants seniority to only be one of the considerations made when it comes to filling a vacant job position, she said.

"Seniority is one of their bigger items for sure," said Joy. "We're just recommending there has to be some sort of discussion on the qualifications and the suitability of the teacher going into that position."

Teachers submitted a proposal last month asking for a 15-per-cent pay hike over three years and modest improvements to benefits.

Lambert said the province is offering no more money and there are still unacceptable demands and strips to the teachers' collective agreement on the table.

"Yes, we are bargaining. This will not get us a deal. The employer has to move a lot further than this."

School board chair Denise Harper said the latest back and forth is all part of the bargaining process.

"It's positive. It shows that the parties are still exchanging positions," she said.

Trustee Gerald Watson said the latest offer shows there's incremental progress being made at the bargaining table.

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