Nearly 6,000 students in the Penticton area will get another long weekend when teachers erect picket lines throughout the Okanagan Skaha School District next Monday.
Sixteen school districts around B.C. will be targeted on the first day of rotating, one-day strikes, which were announced this week by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.
Other parts of the province will be hit next Tuesday through Thursday; Okanagan Similkameen will shut down on Wednesday.
Teachers have been without a contract since June 2013 and are trying to pressure the B.C. government to reach a new agreement.
“This is a fight that’s not just a teachers’ fight, but a fight for public education,” said Leslea Woodward, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union.
The B.C. government backed off last week from an earlier demand for a 10-year deal with teachers, and instead offered a six-year pact and $1,200 signing bonus. However, the government also threatened to cut teachers’ pay by up 10 per cent if they proceed with rotating strikes.
That angered teachers, said Woodward, as did a proposed seven per cent wage increase over the life of the deal and perceived lack of improvement on class size and composition.
Teachers recognize the strike will be tough on some parents, she added, “but we have to look at the big picture here.”
“When we’re off on strike, it’s because we’re fighting for a better education system for your kids.”
Penticton MLA Dan Ashton noted his Liberal government has demonstrated a willingness to bargain by proposing the compromise six-year contract and signing another agreement last week with health-care workers.
“I think teachers should remain at school until the end of the year, and then let’s get a deal done,” Ashton said.
Derek Hurst, president of the Okanagan Skaha district parent advisory council, said he was “disappointed” to learn of the strike,which will present “a challenge for parents, especially coming off a short week.”
Okanagan Skaha School District superintendent Wendy Hyer said non-unionized staff will keep schools open Monday, but will be unable to provide instruction or guarantee students’ safety, so parents are asked to keep their kids home.