A proposal by premier Christy Clark to review teacher bargaining practices with the goal of signing a 10-year contract has struck a sour note with local teachers.
“My first reaction was, there must be an election coming up,” said Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra. “It just shows how desperate she is right now.”
Serra doesn’t think a long-term contract with the province is possible, considering how negations have gone over the past 18 months.
Teachers voted in late June to ratify a bare bones one-year deal with the province, after the Liberal government passed legislation forcing teachers back to work, following a walk-out in March. Teachers across the province had been taking part job action since September 2011, and had been without a contract since June of last year.
Negotiations on the next teacher contract are set to start in March, two months ahead of the next provincial election.
“Given the difficulty we had signing this contract, a 10-year deal seems unlikely,” he said.
The first thing teachers need to see in any contract is more money for classrooms, and salaries.
“School districts are scrambling to provide the same services they’ve provided in the past, but with less, because of rising costs,” said Serra. “And we’ve already demonstrated teachers in B.C. are behind the rest of the country in terms of work conditions and salaries.”
The bargaining review will cover everything related to the teachers’ collective bargaining structure and process and will consider recommendations identified in previous third-party reports to government. Consultations will occur through October and early November and are expected to include school trustees, school administrators and parent groups.
Last week, Clark said both sides in the dispute need to put the past behind them, and be flexible to achieve long-term labour peace.
“For the sake of teachers, students, parents, administrators, school staff and school trustees, we must come together in a collaborative process to bring about labour stability,” she said. “That will require compromise on all sides.”
Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Board of Education chair Mike Murray said a long-term contract would provide stability for all parties involved, but a 10-year deal may be unrealistic.
“Of course we would like stability and a longer term contract would be great, but 10 years is a very long time, for any labour contract,” he said.
However, given the current unstable global economic conditions, it makes little sense for either side to lock into an agreement for an entire decade, added Serra.
“There are risks for both sides with a long term contract.”
“I think teachers can appreciate [a long term deal], but 10 years is a bit ridiculous.”