The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has applied to the Labour Relations Board (LRB) to quash the appointment of Dr. Charles Jago as the mediator in the current labour dispute.
Cariboo-Chilcotin Teachers’ Association (CCTA) president Joan Erb says Jago is not an impartial choice, and points to his past participation with Bill 22 legislation that gives administration more authority for exceeding class sizes and teacher selection.
“I think there’s a huge bias problem there. My understanding is Dr. Jago was instrumental in the development of Bill 22. How do you expect somebody to mediate fairly and openly when they’ve already been influenced by Bill 22?”
The BCTF states Jago told its union representatives in early February that he was given the opportunity, and agreed to review and “wordsmith” a draft of Bill 22 before it was tabled in Legislature.
Erb adds she also believes Jago is, or was, a member of the B.C. Liberal Party, despite his claims that his two, $500 payments to the party were for golf game foursome costs later reimbursed to him.
“Those two things just jump out at you as: ‘how unbiased is this gentleman going to be’?”
She is also disturbed about Jago’s 2006 report on how to improve public education in B.C., Erb says one section in the document “sounds like a dictatorship of direction” for administrators to hold more control over teachers.
This reflects BCTF’s concerns that the report’s findings foreshadow both the positions taken by the BC Public School Employers’ Association at the bargaining table and the policy directions laid out in Bill 22.
The BCTF also indicates Jago was first approached about taking on the mediation role in early February, and he tentatively accepted, weeks in advance of Education Minister George Abbott’s asking the teachers union for suggestions on who might mediate the dispute.
Two senior judges were recommended by the BCTF as possible mediators, but Abbott says his staff inquired and both are still serving and not available.
Erb says she “doubts” the BCTF would recommend the judges without first checking they would be available.
“I don’t question [Jago’s] credentials, but there’s no mediation or arbitration experience, and this is an extremely complex, difficult issue between the teachers and the government.”
School District 27 board chair Will Van Osch notes he hasn’t yet seen the BCTF’s comments, but if the related concerns are true, he says Jago would indeed be “inappropriate” as mediator.
Van Osch adds he finds its “alarming” to hear this may be the case.
“If that’s where the [government] is going, it’s going to lose more good faith. I think people will start to realize that perhaps they are not working this in an unbiased manner.”
Meanwhile, the government is disputing the LRB’s jurisdiction to overrule its choice of a mediator, indicating only the courts can do that.
The teachers are awaiting a ruling on this, and it is expected shortly.
Meanwhile, Erb says it appears the suggestions for a mediator Abbott requested from teachers’ were disregarded.
“It just seems like a setup from day 1. It’s the ‘same old, same old.’ The government asks for input, but does what it wants anyway.”
CCTA members nevertheless maintain a positive outlook, she adds, regardless of the choice of mediator.
“As teachers, we are optimistic and we will do our best to work with Dr. Jago. But, we understand that we are fighting on an uneven playing field.”