B.C. teachers have ratified a framework agreement with the provincial government's bargaining agent in hopes it will kickstart negotiations early next month.
Members of the B.C. Teachers' Federation Representative Assembly in Vancouver voted unanimously Saturday morning to approve the preliminary deal they reached in December with the B.C. Public School Employers' Association.
"It's a significant step in the right direction, a productive move that will help facilitate negotiations," said BCTF president Susan Lambert. "We genuinely hope that the BCPSEA board will also ratify the agreement and that both parties undertake the responsibilities of negotiations regardless of the government's interference earlier this week."
The agreement, designed to improve communications between the two sides, sets a start date for bargaining to begin on Feb. 4, nearly a month before the due date for contract proposals to be exchanged. BCPSEA also ratified the agreement Saturday.
Under terms of the arrangement, a mutually agreed-upon facilitator will be appointed to assist the bargaining process as soon as talks resume. Both parties would equally share the cost of the facilitator.
Other terms of the deal include development of a common method of data study to determine the cost of contract items brought to the bargaining table, and it also outlines a process of identifying which items will be bargained provincially and which will be left for school boards to determine through local bargaining.
"This agreement will bring an early and positive start to bargaining," Lambert said. "And with good will on both sides that this heralds, we hope to reach a collective agreement before the end of the school year and the expiry of the current contract."
Lambert was critical of Premier Christy Clark when on Thursday Clark publicly unveiled details of the government's plan for a 10-year contract proposal for teachers without first consulting the BCTF. The union leader said the timing of Clark's announcement was an unnecessary distraction, just days before the two sides were about to hold ratification votes on the framework agreement before the deadline this coming Friday.
The current two-year contract for the province's 41,000 public school teachers expires on June 30.
The framework deal was put in place to help avoid a repeat of the the stalemate in negotiations that plagued the 2011-12 school year. Teachers that year refused supervisory and extracurricular duties and the government responded with its Bill 22 legislation, which led to a strike in March 2012 that closed B.C. schools for three days.