VICTORIA -- VICTORIA - Throngs of teachers hoping to draw attention to stalled contract talks have staged a rally outside a venue where British Columbia's New Democrats are holding an annual convention.

B.C. Teachers' Federation president Teri Mooring joined union members Saturday as NDP delegates gathered to vote on policy initiatives that could be adopted by the party.

Mooring said the union decided to hold its thrice-yearly meeting with school-district representatives in Victoria to coincide with the convention so members could speak with delegates and members of the legislature about their contract concerns.

The union has said more teachers must be hired but Education Minister Rob Fleming maintains the province made efforts to recruit over 900 out-of-province teachers last year and increased funding for all 60 school districts.

The B.C. Public School Employers Association has offered wage hikes of two per cent annually for a three-year term in keeping with what other public-sector employees have accepted, but the teachers' union has rejected the increase.

Teachers have been without a contract since last June, but no settlement has been reached despite the involvement of a mediator.

Mooring said that as the Opposition, the New Democrats criticized the former Liberal government's gutting of class size and student- composition provisions from the contract, but now the party is not standing up for public education.

A landmark Supreme Court of Canada victory for the union in 2016 restored class-size and composition provisions, forcing the government to hire more teachers.

However, the top court ruled the restored provisions could be bargained during negotiations.

“We have tabled improvements to those conditions, the class size and composition, and the employer has tabled concessions,” she said, adding that would amount to larger classes.

The current contract limits class size to 30 students from Grades 4 to 12 but the employer has proposed a limit of 32 students in Grades 4 to 9 and 33 students in Grades 10 to 12, Mooring said.

“They've also tabled a provision that would eliminate our class-composition language and would replace it with a committee to be headed by a district superintendent to decide the allocation of classroom resources.

“We wouldn't have been shocked if it had been the Liberals still in power but we were shocked that we have an NDP government and their bargaining team tabled concessions, and such vast concessions as well.”

Teachers were shocked to see an NDP proposal to eliminate class composition language from the contract and the union won't accept that from the employer, she said, adding a shortage of nearly 400 teachers in the province has led to the recruitment of uncertified and unqualified teachers.

Talks are expected to resume next month, and Fleming said he's pleased the union and the employers' association agreed to work with a mediator.

“Negotiations are a give-and-take process. It is our hope that both sides will take time to consider this constructive path forward and consult their memberships,” he said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2019