B.C.’s public school teachers are back at work without a contract.

That’s because bargaining between the BC Teachers Federation and the province has stalled. The contract expired on June 30th but the union had said it wanted to get a deal done before the school year started.

The BCTF and the BC Public School Employers’ Association will get together again on Sept. 23rd with an eye on resuming talks on Sept. 30th. The union says the main sticking points are wages, class composition and sizes, and the inability to recruit and retain teachers.

BCTF president Teri Mooring said the mediator called for a recess on Friday.

“He had determined that the two sides would not likely reach an agreement over the weekend,” Mooring said. “We had been pushing for those dates because we were really determined to get a deal before the start of the school year.”

Mooring said teachers have a goal of improving student learning conditions and were “faced with concessions,” instead.

“What that looked like was larger class sizes than currently exists provincially, and an average number (of students) for specialist teachers, which would mean reductions in some of the largest districts,” she noted.

B.C. has a teacher shortage, Mooring said.

“There just aren’t enough qualified teachers to fill all of the classrooms that we have in B.C. right now and all of the needs that we have,” she said. 

She says that means that specialist teachers are pulled away from their work to fill in.

“That (also) means for that time frame, student services are cancelled,” Mooring said. “We’re talking about counsellors, we’re talking about learning support teachers… these are really critical services that students rely on.”

A barrier in attracting teachers to the province is the average salary, Mooring said: “Salary is definitely on the table. When you couple salary with our high cost of living, it’s not a surprise that we’re just not seeing enough teachers coming from other parts of Canada to fill the need.”

The BCTF notes that B.C.’s public school teachers are the second lowest paid among their peers in Canada and the lowest among all of the western provinces. Meanwhile, Mooring said that for the time being, there are no plans for teachers to take any kind of job action.

“That’s one of the reasons why we were so determined to try and get a deal before school started. It was to remove that uncertainty, to ensure that students and their families and teachers were able to start the school year with the confidence that a collective agreement was settled.

“We weren’t able to achieve that, so there is some uncertainty, there, because it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen at the bargaining table.”

The BCTF is “going to work as hard as we can to get a deal quickly,” Mooring added. 

“We need to get a good deal because we had many, many years of stagnation under the previous government, where we weren’t able to achieve any of our bargaining goals where we either got zero or small increases that didn’t keep up with the cost of living.”

As a result, Mooring said there is a lot of ground to make up.

“It’s very hard to predict what’s going to happen moving forward but we’re going to work as hard as we can to get a deal quickly. We’re hoping the employer approaches bargaining in a similar manner.”

Ultimately, Mooring pointed out, teachers haven’t taken a strike vote and hope to get a deal “sooner rather than later.”

“But that’s the uncertainty that we’re left with because the two parties were not able to get a deal before school started.”