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High-profile mediator declines request to help settle B.C. teachers strike

VANCOUVER - Educators huddled Sunday night, trying to come up with a plan B after a veteran mediator declined their invitation to help resolve British Columbia's teachers strike.

B.C. Teachers Federation spokesman Rich Overgaard says Vince Ready didn't have time in his busy schedule to mediate the dispute that has closed classrooms to more than half a million students across the province.

Ready is one of Canada's top labour troubleshooters, and the more than 40,000-member teachers union had said it felt he could be the key to moving things forward.

The strike began last week, and though there's still no end in sight, classes are due to wind down this week in most schools.

The province's labour board has also ruled the teachers must still grade high school exams that are critical for students entering post-secondary schools.

What will happen to summer classes, however, remains unclear.

The dispute suffered a set back Friday when the independent facilitator who spent more than a year trying to broker a deal resigned.

Mark Brown quit after the B.C. Teachers Federation demanded mediation.

Pay, class size and support staff are the main problem areas in the negotiations.

Peter Cameron, the government's chief negotiator, has said mediation will be pointless unless the teachers lower their wage demands.

He contends the teachers are seeking wage and benefit improvements that would amount to a 14.5 per cent hike over five years — demands he dismisses as being outside the "affordability zone."

The union says it's asking for an eight per cent salary boost, plus a $5,000 signing bonus and a $225 million fund to cover additional costs for things such as preparation time and improved health benefits.

The government has offered a seven per cent wage increase and $1,200 signing bonus over six years, arguing the union is asking for twice the compensation of other public-sector settlements.

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