A softening of public support for teachers in the ongoing labour dispute between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the BC Government now puts backing for both sides in a virtual tie with days to go before the scheduled start of the new school year.
These are the findings of a new survey, commissioned and paid for by Angus Reid Global that also show British Columbians have little hope for a deal before schools are supposed to open Tuesday September 2, and as parents dig in and make alternate plans.
The online survey shows 36 per cent of respondents are most inclined to support teachers in the dispute and 35 per cent back the BC Government. 23 per cent say they support neither side. Support for teachers among parents or direct caregivers to children in school is also split, with 38 per cent taking the teachers’ side over government’s (34%). This represents a softening of support for teachers among parents/caregivers from an earlier ARG poll conducted in June, when they said they supported teachers two-to-one over government (49% to 25%).
Consistent with findings from June, most respondents (46%) want both sides to compromise on wage negotiations, while 42 per cent say teachers are asking for too much money, and 12 per cent say the government offer is too low. The latter measures mark a definite shift in opinion over the summer. In June, 36 per cent felt teachers were seeking too much, and one-fifth (21%) felt government was low-balling its offer.
Class size and composition:
There is also noticeable shifting in opinion on the other key bargaining issue in this dispute: the size and student-teacher makeup, or composition, of individual classes. This decade-old issue has included orders by the courts to restore previous class size and composition requirements. The BC Government is appealing the latest court ruling, arguing the costs involved in restoring previous standards are too high.
In June, nearly two-thirds (62%) of all respondents said the BC Government should “fund the education system in the way the court has ruled”, while two-in-five respondents (38%) said the “BC Government is right to appeal the court decision.” Today, opinion is more evenly split, with 55 per cent saying government should obey the courts, and 45 per cent supporting the decision to appeal.
No hope for a deal:
The latest numbers also clearly indicate that British Columbians – including those with kids in school – have little faith in a settlement between both sides by September 2nd. Fully 89 per cent say it’s unlikely the BCTF and the BC Government will be reach an agreement by Tuesday. 11 per cent believe an agreement in the next 96 hours can be achieved.
Impact on families, alternative plans:
When asked about the expected impact a looming strike would have on parents and their families, half (51%) said the job action would have an impact, but they would be able to manage around it, while about a third (29%) said the strike would have a “major” impact, and one-fifth (20%) said the strikes would have “not much impact” on them.
In terms of length of strike, most respondents with children in public school say they can manage for as long as it takes (41%) while roughly one-fifth (17%) equally say they can manage a few days or a few weeks. Eight per cent say they’re already at a breaking point and can’t manage.
Among parents who say they will need to make alternate plans for childcare, most say they’ll rely on friends and family, or haven’t quite figured out what do to yet.
The BC Government has said it will make available a $40 per day, per child payment for parents under the age of 13 to offset the costs of alternative child care. However, public sentiment towards this gesture is dismissive: 39 per cent of parents, and 37 per cent of respondents overall describe the gesture as a genuinely helpful offer for parents, while 61 per cent of parents and 63 per cent of respondents overall believe the government is playing politics with the offer.
How should the dispute be resolved?
Respondents are almost evenly split on three possible ways to resolve the dispute. One-quarter (26%) say both sides should go back to the bargaining table and negotiate. 28 per cent say a mediator should be involved (mediator Vince Ready has opened exploratory discussions between both sides this week) while one-quarter support arbitration. 16 per cent say teachers should be ordered back to work through legislation.
MEANWHILE, talks in the teachers’ dispute that resumed Friday with mediator Vince Ready will now continue on Saturday.
Ready had said on Wednesday that he was meeting with both sides in B.C. Teachers’ Federation dispute on Thursday in Richmond to conduct exploratory talks to determine if a negotiated deal could be reached before Tuesday.
On Thursday, BCTF President Jim Iker had said he was encouraged that the two sides would continue talks Friday.
The BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) said on Thursday they had confirmed with Education Minister Peter Fassbender and the BCTF that they would continue the suspension of the employers’ lockout and that they are prepared to enter mediation at the call of Ready. They added: “As the Minister indicated, his proposals are not pre-conditions to mediation but rather, are intended to pave the way to focus on the key matters at issue — compensation, and class size and composition.”
EDUCATION Minister Peter Fassbender on Wednesday when asked by the media if he was confident classes would start on Tuesday, replied: “I’m going to say I sincerely hope – whatever path it takes – whether we have a settlement this weekend, or we have you back in school with a process underway.”