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Updated: Fassbender rejects BCTF arbitration call

Education Minister Peter Fassbender has rejected the B.C. Teachers Federation's call Friday for binding arbitration to end the teachers strike.

He said the BCTF never gave the province a detailed written proposal and the union's insistence on several preconditions would have tilted arbitration in its favour.

"It became very clear that it was another empty effort to give parents and teachers a false hope that there is a simple way to resolve the dispute," Fassbender said Saturday.

BCTF president Jim Iker urged the province to agree to arbitration and leave class size and composition to be settled by the courts, promising the union would then hold a membership vote on suspending the strike and returning to work.

Fassbender said binding arbitration hands over control to a third party and risks an outcome that compromises B.C.'s balanced budget and unacceptably damages the province's finances.

The last use of binding arbitration by the province in 2001 led to a surprise $400-million increase in fees for B.C. doctors that prompted the government to raise the provincial sales tax by 0.5 per cent.

Fassbender remained firm that the province wants a negotiated settlement in line with the pay raises accepted by other government unions.

"The BCTF leadership is trying to avoid having the tough conversation with their members about what is realistic and achievable at the bargaining table."

Iker reiterated the offer Sunday, calling it a "fair, workable, and pragmatic plan to end the strike, open schools, and get children back into classrooms."

He said his only precondition is that the province drop its proposed E80clause, which allows either side to dodge the effect of a future appeal court ruling against them on class size and special needs resources.

"Their attempt to bargain their way out of their two court losses has been the biggest obstacle to a settlement," Iker said.

Prior to the BCTF offer, government negotiator Peter Cameron said arbitration was undesirable, not just because of the financial risk to government, but because it takes the decision out of the hands of both the government and the BCTF.

"The parties end up not really having made the hard decisions and owning the outcome," he said. "And it involves a third party, who would likely be a labour relations person rather than an educator, making educational decisions."

VIDEO: Watch Jim Iker address above, mobile users click here.

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