Public school teachers in the province will take a strike vote Feb. 29 in the face of a legislated end to their current labour dispute.
Education Minister George Abbott announced last week he would introduce the legislation in the legislature sometime this week.
Last week’s announcement came shortly after labour ministry official Trevor Hughes reported that a negotiated settlement is “very unlikely” to occur between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA).
The teachers have been without a contract since June 2011, and since September, they have been performing essential services, but refusing to complete report cards, attend administrative meetings and some supervisory aspects of their job.
Cariboo-Chilcotin Teachers’ Association president Joan Erb said the results of the vote will be made public March 1.
“We believe that a strong ‘yes’ vote will put more pressure on BCPSEA, resulting in what we hope will be fruitful mediation.”
The BCTF has asked for the Labour Relations Board to appoint a mediator to work with both sides to reach an agreement, she noted, or failing that, appoint an independent arbitrator.
Erb added she hopes Abbott will consider that avenue rather than legislation to force all job duties to be resumed with an imposed contract.
With the two sides $2 billion apart on wages and benefits, Abbott said mediation would not work for the monetary dispute, as the government will not consider any arbitration that is inconsistent with its net-zero mandate.
With three-quarters of B.C. public employees and more than 100 contracts negotiated with that mandate, he explained the province must proceed on that basis.
B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said he was concerned Premier Christy Clark was intentionally setting the groundwork for a “completely unnecessary fight” with teachers as a distraction from 10 years of “under funding and mismanagement of education” by the B.C. Liberal government.
“British Columbians don’t want a fight. They want their government to negotiate and to do what is right for their children.”
Meanwhile, Erb noted that pushing a contract on teachers is not “back-to-work” legislation, but rather it’s enforcing teachers to do non-essential tasks, as teachers have been performing most of their work.
The lack of report cards is not a problem for parents she talked to, Erb said, adding teachers have kept them informed how their child is doing in the classroom.
In his report, Hughes pointed to the government’s net-zero wage increase mandate and the BCTF’s demand for a 15 per cent wage increase over three years in his report.
Erb said this wasn’t a wage increase, but rather a way to “catch up” with inflation.
“In an attempt to meet the demands of inflation, we asked for that cost of living increase to deal with inflation, but that was denied completely.
“B.C. has the highest cost of living in the country and yet we’re ninth on the scale for [school teachers’] pay.”
BCTF has been to the bargaining table almost 80 times, she explained, and while they brought negotiable objectives, the government’s bargaining agent didn’t.
“All BCPSEA has brought to the table is net-zero mandate and [things they want to strip from] the collective agreement in respect to seniority, and posting and filling positions.”
Government is attempting to “take more control” of the teachers, she added, which defeats the main purpose of having a collective agreement.
“Seniority is the basis of a union … we’ve brought a reduced package, and still it was like talking to a brick wall.”