B.C.'s long-running labour dispute with teachers may finally be coming to an end.
On Tuesday night, the B.C. Teachers' Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association reached a tentative deal.
"This has come together to the surprise of many people, including me to some extent," said Education Minister George Abbott.
The teachers' union and BCPSEA (the government's bargaining agent) still have to vote to ratify the two-year deal, which ends on June 30, 2013.
The agreement does not cover salary increases, class sizes or the limits on the number of special needs kids, some of the major sticking points for the BCTF.
BCPSEA chair Melanie Joy said the two parties were far apart when the discussions started.
"When we got to the end deal, we both moved on several of our opening (positions)," she said. "It's a very bare contract. We have a few things we've achieved."
According to Joy, the teachers wanted roughly $2 billion in compensation increases, but BCPSEA was operating within the government's net-zero mandate, meaning no new money for teachers. Meanwhile, the province wanted four major policy changes that the teachers did not, and in the end, both sides backed off. Two of the policy changes, related to professional development and evaluation, are still up for discussion, but two were dropped, Joy explained.
"It's been a very difficult year for everyone that's been involved in this system. This is the best we could do given the (net-zero) mandate and everything we started out with," Joy said. "It is a relief that the agreement has been reached. It means a lot to have this for both parties and for moving forward, but as I mentioned before, it's been a very tough year. There are just no winners here."
Had the two sides not come to a deal, the government-appointed mediator, Charles Jago, would have made non-binding recommendations, and if mediation were still not successful, the provincial government would have brought in a legislated solution, likely forcing the teachers into a contract.
"We've concluded this agreement in order to prevent government from imposing a contract that would further erode teachers' hard-won rights and do more harm to students' learning conditions," said BCTF president Susan Lambert.
Burnaby Teachers' Association president Richard Storch was not available for immediate comment. The BCTF will announce results from the ratification vote on Friday, June 29, the last day of school.