“Whether we are in job action or not, that desire to help kids has not changed, and they (teachers) are still committed to helping kids, teaching kids, and doing the best by the students they have in their classrooms,” said Lorraine Mackay, president of the Peace River South Teachers’ Association, local of the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).
She said teachers will “continue to teach, to plan, to asses and evaluate students,” but will not be participating in administrative tasks – including preparing report cards – and supervision before and after school and during breaks. She said nothing is prohibiting teachers from coaching after-school sports, for example, and those activities will continue.
“What we would really like to have is a settlement with the provincial government, and at the local level with the school district,” said Mackay. “This is all about putting pressure on the employer – on the provincial government – to actually come to the table and get a settlement with us.”
There are a number of issues complicating bargaining at both the provincial and local levels.
First is that the government entered negotiations with a “net-zero” mandate stipulating no increases to the cost of collective agreements while it deals with getting a provincial deficit under control. The BCTF is proposing increases to salaries and benefits such as paid leave for compassionate care, bereavement and professional activities that the BC Public School Employers Association (BCPSEA) – the organization that negotiates on behalf of school boards in the province – states will represent a $2.1 billion, or 75 per cent, increase over the previous collective bargaining agreement and is unrealistic, though the union disputes that figure.
The BCTF maintains compensation for teachers remains among the lowest in the country and has not kept up with increases to the cost of living.
The second issue is that legislation barring teachers from negotiating locally over working conditions such as classroom size and compensation was ruled invalid by the BC Supreme Court earlier this year. It was actually now-Premier Christy Clark who introduced that legislation when she was education minister back in 2002.
Mackay said the issues of classroom size and compensation are affecting students in the South Peace, and they would like to see the provincial government return to legislation that sets hard limits instead of the soft ones included in the current legislation (Bill 33), and that those issues should be negotiated locally, not provincially.
“We think that local school districts know their areas best, their students best and their schools best, as do teachers, and we feel it is better if we can sit down with the school district and the board of trustees and establish those limits,” she said.
There has also been a dispute between the two parties over what issues can be negotiated locally and what issues are provincial matters. An arbitrator recently cited that issues that affect the cost of the collective agreement – salaries, benefits, time worked and paid leave – are provincial issues, but Mackay said they are still pursuing whether issues such as compensation for mileage can be negotiated locally.
Mackay said she hopes the public views education not as a cost but rather than an investment in our future.
“What we’re actually talking about is the impact on students,” she said. “What we have seen in this area is a reduction in learning assistance teachers, librarians and teachers who work with special needs children – all of those areas have been cut.”
The two parties have been negotiating since March, and though she said she is hopeful they will have an agreement soon, she said she hasn’t heard anything that would indicate a breakthrough in bargaining. Teachers are restricted by the Essential Services Act from walking off the job, but she said further job action could include rotating strikes, though that is not being contemplated at this time.