National News

B.C. daycares swamped because of teachers' strike

By Steven Chua, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - Daycare operators in British Columbia are scrambling to keep up with increased demand for child support as more parents need places to babysit their kids because schools will not open.

Janos Stiasny, owner of Wise Owl Montessori Child Care, said spots in his daycare have filled right up because of the ongoing teachers' strike.

He said he normally gets more than 65 children, but after the strike his care centres are looking after about 90 kids in total and about 14 children remain on the wait-list.

"We are very carefully managing the scarce space available," said Stiasny. "We had to hire additional educators, so for us as an operator it's been quite a time for us to get ready and prepared."

"Parents are kind of in a panic mode," he said. "They are scrambling."

Talks between the government's bargainers and teachers fell apart over the weekend, dashing any hopes parents had that school would start as scheduled on Tuesday.

Both sides have said they are willing to engage in talks that would end — or at least suspend the strike — but have also acknowledged school would almost certainly not start on time, and no meetings between the two have been scheduled.

The impasse has forced many to seek alternate arrangements for childcare that would normally be provided by schools, and the spike in demand for daycare is proving challenging.

Stiasny said the facilities he has will not be large enough to keep accommodating extra kids, and it may be some time before he can make arrangements to expand his operation.

In order to get more building space, Stiasny said he must go through extensive licensing procedures and then have to worry about finding the right staff.

"It would probably be by the end of October by the time I could have a license to operate and have the adequate manager and educators in place," he said.

As the father of a 10-year-old, Stiasny said the strike is also affecting him.

He said his daycares are full and have no room for his child, forcing him to make arrangements with friends.

"It's very stressful because we wanted to make sure we served our community," he said.

Stiasny and his friends, who have children in Grades 3 and 5 will be taking turns getting time off work in order to babysit.

"We are going to be losing revenue in terms of our income potential since we have to stay home and take care of our children," he said.

Other places such as the YMCA of Greater Vancouver are also ramping up their efforts to take care of children who would normally be at class.

The organization has started what it calls strike camps, which would provide almost 1,200 spaces for children during the ongoing job action.

Spaces for these camps are dwindling — an answering machine for the organization stated three of the five locations have been filled.

Even the province is stepping in to help with the burden.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender announced on Sunday parents of children aged 12 and under can start registering on a government site to receive $40 a day for childcare as the strike continues.

The website bcparentinfo.ca said payments will be made after the strike is over.

Glitches marred its launch on Sunday, and the Ministry of Education said it is investigating.

Jim Iker, the president of BC Teachers' Federation, has been critical of the program, calling it a bribe at a recent union conference.

But Fassbender has defended the payments, saying the province has every right to distribute money saved from a strike according to parents' best interests.

The province's 40,000 public school teachers went on strike two weeks before the summer break started, booting half a million students out of class.

The sticking points are pay, class size, and the amount of support staff per class, and talks over summer months progressed at a glacial pace.

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