Six months have passed since B.C. teachers finally settled a contract dispute that plagued the 2011-12 school year with job actions and prompted a full-scale walkout that closed schools for three days.
The two-year contract teachers signed just before that school year ended will expire on June 30 and preliminary talks for a new contract have already begun between the B.C. Teachers Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, lessening the likelihood of future labour-related disruptions for B.C. students.
"I believe the parties have been talking at BCPSEA and BCTF and they have designs around putting some things in place that are going to hopefully avoid a repeat of last year," said Matt Pearce, president of the Prince George District Teachers Association.
"Given that the parties are already talking about bargaining structures, bargaining has essentially already started. Bargaining at the provincial level is going to start in February."
Last October, Premier Christy Clark suggested there's reason to hope for a 10-year contract settlement in the next round of negotiations. Pearce says for a long-term agreement to be possible, teacher bargaining structures have to changed. Those structures have been reviewed twice in the past decade but no changes resulted.
"The parties have realized the bargaining structures are broken and that's coming from both sides," Pearce said. "We've been saying that for a while but now BCPSEA has also been saying that, which is a good sign. They are looking for a facilitator that both parties would agree upon from the very beginning of the process, not someone brought in once roadblocks are hit. It has to be someone amenable to both parties, not somebody appointed by one side."
In B.C., provincial bargaining was established in 1994, replacing a system of local teacher unions bargaining directly with their own school boards. Since then, only two teacher contracts -- one in 1998, the other in 2006 -- have been settled through collective bargaining.
"What we want is to have the ability to move forward without labour unrest," said School District 57 board chair Sharel Warrington. "We want to know our employees are well-treated and their collective agreement meets their needs and their employer as well, so we can get on with the work of teaching and learning."