WATCH: B.C. Premier Christy Clark is weighing in from the sidelines of social media on the government’s feud with striking teachers while classes in public schools are delayed for another day.
VANCOUVER – B.C. Premier Christy Clark is calling on the B.C. Teachers’ Federation to suspend or end the strike so students can get back into the classroom while negotiations between the two sides continue.
Clark spoke to the media on Wednesday afternoon, after weeks of silence on the current education dispute.
When asked if she had been “in hiding”, Clark said “I’ve been here, I’ve been working with Peter [Fassbender] and working with our team, working with cabinet.”
But BCTF president Jim Iker said teachers have no intention of suspending the strike right now.
“We’re not suspending any strike right now and we’re also locked out. We’re locked out right now,” said Iker, following Clark’s press conference.
WATCH BELOW: Premier Christy Clark calls for B.C. teachers to suspend their strike.
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Clark said the real issue that needs to be discussed is class composition, but that cannot be accomplished until the issue of wages is solved.
She said the BCTF needs to come in “at a reasonable level on wages.”
“They are still demanding twice as much as other public sector workers have received,” said Clark. “About 150,000 workers in the public sector, dedicated men and women who serve British Columbians every day, have settled for raises that were fair, fair to them and fair to taxpayers.”
“It’s just not right, I don’t think, to demand a $5,000 signing bonus that no one else in the public sector has received. As long as the TF refuses to get into the affordability zone, and by that I mean a zone that’s similar to the what the other 150,000 public servants who serve British Columbians everyday have settled for, we cannot put all of our attention on the one issue that is most vital to the future of education in British Columbia.”
“And that is addressing the issues with respect to class composition.”
Iker said the $5,000 signing bonus is negotiable. “That’s for us to talk about at the table,” he said. “But we need a government willing to talk about what’s there.”
He added that they also want to get back to the bargaining table and want mediator Vince Ready to join them.
READ MORE (From June 2014): A look at what’s on the table between the BCTF and the BCPSEA
Clark agreed all this can only be settled at the bargaining table by negotiators.
“Ultimately what we all want is to make sure our kids get back in the classroom and get the education their parents have paid for and that they’re going to need to compete in the world,” said Clark, adding that teachers do deserve a raise, no question.
“We need to make sure that, if we can, that we can, the teachers can end their strike, suspend their strike, while we can get kids back into the classroom,” said Clark.
But she reiterated that the teachers’ union needs to come to the table with a “proposal that’s realistic.”
“For heaven’s sakes,” she said. “150,000 other public sector employees, who work just as hard, have settled for far less. They didn’t get a $5,000 signing bonus, they didn’t get unlimited massage, they didn’t get an extra day off every year.”
“It needs to be realistic, it needs to be in line with what we’ve done with other public sector unions.”
Iker clarified what the teachers are asking for at his press conference. He said teachers are looking for a “modest improvement” in massage benefits, from $500 to $700. He said there was never a proposal for unlimited massage, but there was one for $3,000 in massages for members in chronic pain. That benefit is now off the table however.
He also said there was never any proposal to give secondary teachers an extra day off a year. There was a proposal to give teachers an extra two days of preparation time, but that proposal has also been taken off the table.
“Collective bargaining is about movement,” said Iker. “Unfortunately the B.C. government hasn’t moved in any meaningful way in months.”
“The government is trying to prolong the shutdown with their $40 a day payment scheme,” he added.
WATCH BELOW: BCTF President Jim Iker responds to Premier Christy Clark’s comments on teachers’ dispute
Iker said in the long term, the two sides are only one year apart and only one per cent apart in wages. “B.C. teachers haven’t had a salary increase since 2011.”
Clark did not answer the question of how long the government would allow the strike to continue, but said the teachers chose to go on strike and they are the only ones who can choose to end it.
Currently, there are no new talks scheduled between the two sides, but Iker said teachers want to get back to the bargaining table as well but it is about both sides giving and taking. He said they could have reached a deal this past weekend if the government was willing to move.
“If they can build a roof on BC Place for half a billion dollars, they can invest in our children,” he said.
WATCH: Global News’ Legislative Bureau Chief Keith Baldrey with his latest analysis on today’s events.