The BC Liberal government unveiled an ambitious plan on Thursday, to try and take some of the dissension out of bargaining between boards of education and the B.C. Teachers Federation.
It is an excellent starting point for future discussions, but has almost no chance of being adopted in its entirety – particularly as we are now entering a provincial election campaign, an election that, thus far, the BC Liberals seem likely to lose.
Premier Christy Clark has stated on many occasions that she would like to see labour peace in the school system for at least 10 years. This is an admirable goal. Labour disruptions do not help students get a better education.
In the last school year, teachers were basically on a work-to-rule campaign for the entire year, and it was not helpful to students or parents – particularly the lack of report cards and lack of dialogue between parents and teachers.
The provincial proposal calls for teachers, through the BCTF, to have more of a voice in education policy decisions.
It also calls for teachers’ wages over the next 10 years to be based on an indexing of other major B.C. public sector wage settlements, which would ensure that they do not fall behind. It also would let the BCTF, at some point in time, regain the right to strike.
In addition, the province is ready to put $100 million into a Priority Education Investment Fund. In the third year of the agreement, it would be available to address education priorities – and teachers would be among those with a say on what those priorities would be.
The province also wants a more transparent bargaining process and clear timelines of when bargaining takes place and contracts are agreed to. There is no question that the bargaining with the BCTF has been seriously flawed for many years. Agreements have been few and far between, and even when one side or the other makes concessions, controversy seems inevitable.
Part of this is due to the feeling by the BCTF that it deserves a voice in setting policy. While it has every right to discuss policy with the province, in fact, under NDP, Liberal and Social Credit governments, this has rarely gone smoothly.
This proposal actually sets up a formal avenue for the BCTF to be involved in policy discussions and it needs to be careful not to reject something it has long wanted.