VANCOUVER - Public school teachers across British Columbia plan to start rotating strikes today, a move which could boot more than half a million students out of class for one day each this week.
At the same time, the province plans to start cutting teachers' pay by 10 per cent.
Jim Iker of the BC Teachers' Federation says if the contract dispute between the province and educators is not resolved swiftly, another round of job action could take place next week.
While more than 40,000 teachers take turns being off the job, extracurricular activities will stop and unionized school support staff will honour picket lines.
The sticking points in the dispute are pay, class size and classroom support.
On Sunday, Peter Cameron, the government's lead negotiator, said the province is offering a 7.3 per cent wage increase over six years; Iker said teachers want 13.7 per cent over four years.
Cameron called the union's demands unreasonable because the wages and benefits teachers seek are four times greater than those of other unions which have negotiated with the province.
But Iker said B.C. teachers are the second lowest-paid in Canada — after Prince Edward Island — and their demands are in line with the cost of living.
"We think we've been very patient in this round of bargaining" he added. "We had to put some pressure on the bargaining table."
Cameron, who represents the BC Public School Employers' Association, said teachers' demands would cost each taxpayer roughly $1,100.
The rotating strikes are the latest move in a bitter ongoing dispute between teachers and government.
In April, teachers stopped supervising students outside the classroom or communicating in writing with administrators.
The government offered to cut its initial 10-year contract proposal to six years while offering a $1,200 signing bonus. But it also said if a deal were not reached by the end of the school year in June, it would chop teachers' pay by five per cent.
Teachers then declared the rotating strikes. The province responded by saying it would limit the amount of work teachers do outside class and would also force high school teachers to stay home for three days and elementary teachers to stay home for one.
The province also said that if teachers walked off the job, they would lose 10 per cent of their pay — not five.