Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Mediator Holds Meeting That Could Determine Course of B.C. Teachers' Strike

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Mediator Holds Meeting That Could Determine Course of B.C. Teachers' Strike

Article excerpt

Mediator talks in teachers' dispute

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RICHMOND, B.C. - A veteran labour mediator waded into a bitter dispute between the British Columbia government and its teachers Thursday, meeting with both sides in what could be the most significant development in a strike that is threatening to derail the start of the school year.

At the end of the meeting, mediator Vince Ready emerged to say the two sides still appeared very far apart. Still, he said he asked bargaining committees to reconvene with him on Friday.

Earlier in the day, Ready described the meeting as "exploratory" as he assessed whether the B.C. Teachers' Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, which bargains on behalf of the government, are close enough to begin formal mediation.

Teachers have been on strike since mid-June, though negotiations were largely stalled over the summer break, making a delayed start to the school year increasingly likely.

Ready, who has helped bring an end to a number of high-profile labour disputes in the province, acknowledged he was walking into a very difficult situation.

"Last time I met them, they were a long ways apart," Ready said as he arrived at a hotel in Richmond, south of Vancouver.

The gathering followed a proposal from the province's education minister, who asked the teachers' union and the employer a day earlier to enter into mediation, put aside one of the most contentious issues in the dispute, and agree not to stage strikes or lockouts for two weeks.

Peter Cameron, the employers' lead negotiator, said the education minister's proposal wasn't a prerequisite for mediation.

Union president Jim Iker did not comment as he arrived for Thursday's meeting or when he left for the day. Iker has yet to say whether the federation is prepared to put the strike on hold and allow teachers to return to the classroom next week, though he has said such a move would likely require a vote from union members.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender issued a statement earlier on Thursday asking the union to put the proposal to teachers. …

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