My kids were disappointed not to be in school earlier this week. My daughter loves school and we could not have asked for a more fabulous kindergarten teacher. My son is in second grade and has also had terrific teachers.
It would be nice if my children's teachers — and all other British Columbians — could make more money. The hard reality is that taxpayers can't afford to meet teachers' demands right now. The province is running a deficit, and global economic uncertainty is still a major threat to our economy.
The teachers' demand for a 15-per-cent pay increase over three years doesn't look reasonable next to what is going on in the private or public sectors. Small-business confidence is still shaky. Consumers' continued caution means many business owners are making less than they did a few years ago. Most public-sector unions in the province, recognizing the economic climate, have settled within the government negotiating framework of no-net compensation increases for two years.
A recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business shows that the majority of small business owners (74 per cent) believe B.C. teachers should not be given wage increases in the middle of spending restraint. (Thirteen per cent say they should be given an increase and 12 per cent are undecided).
Fortunately, B.C. teachers are already well compensated. Individual teacher salaries in Vancouver range from about $46,000 to $81,000 for the 10-month period they are in the classroom. As a rough point of reference, median household income (which includes many families where both parents work) in Vancouver is roughly $65,000. Another indicator that wages are reasonable: More people want to teach than there are teaching jobs.
During the last negotiation, teachers secured a 16-per-cent pay increase over five years with a $3,700 signing bonus for each teacher. Most in the private sector did not fare as well.
While additional increases are off the table this year, it is worth noting that teachers working for less than 10 years will still get their seniority step increases of around $2,000.
B.C. teachers currently make more than teachers in most other developed countries according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. B.C. Business Council economist Jock Finlayson recently showed that teacher's rank fourth in pay within Canada which "closely matches where our province sits in the national pecking order on most economy-wide measures of income."
Teachers also have generous benefits including defined benefit pensions where the employer is contributing more than the employee, and much more holiday time than most other jobs.
Like most British Columbians, I have a great deal of respect for our teachers. But wage and benefit settlements need to be reasonable because all hardworking people pay for public-sector compensation through their taxes and in so doing have less to spend on their own families. The leadership of the B.C. Teachers' Federation should follow the lead of other unions in this province and wait for better economic times before asking for increases.
Laura Jones is the Senior Vice-President Research, Economics & Western Canada with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.