BC Teachers Resist NDP Government’s Demands for Concessions
— Barbara Biley —
Forty-three thousand BC public school teachers, members of the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) returned to their classrooms on September 3 without a collective agreement in place, as a result of unacceptable demands by the NDP government.
In February 2019, BCTF negotiators began bargaining with the provincial government and the BC Public School Employers’ Association, representing the province’s 60 school districts. The BCTF’s goal was to negotiate a new collective agreement by June 30 when the old contract expired. The teachers are seeking acceptable salary increases. During the more than two decades long anti-social offensive waged by Liberal and NDP provincial governments, BC teachers’ salaries have fallen behind other provinces.
The teachers are also seeking improvements in working conditions, which are the learning conditions of their students. In 2016 following a long legal battle against the former BC Liberal government, the BCTF won a court case at the Supreme Court of Canada that restored provisions in the collective agreement related to class size, class composition and specialist teacher staffing ratios. The government had unilaterally and illegally eliminated those provisions in 2002, leading to 15 years of teacher layoffs, cuts to specialist teachers, increased class sizes and fewer supports for students with special needs. According to the BCTF not all the damage caused by years of cuts has been rectified so improvements in some key areas such as consistent provincial standards for class size and composition are needed. As of February 2019, more than 300 teacher positions were still unfilled in BC, which must be addressed during negotiations.
The employer’s initial proposals tabled in April ruled out any settlement by the end of June. According to former BCTF President, Glen Hansman, the government proposals would make class sizes larger in many provincial districts, “would remove each and every word of the class composition language” and “would take us backwards” resulting in cuts to teaching supports for students on Vancouver Island, the Fraser Valley and the Lower Mainland. Premier John Horgan responded that the proposals were meant to “modernize language not to take away rights that were hard fought for.”
After the expiry of the old contract and with negotiations at an impasse, the Labour Relations Board appointed a mediator. Eight days of mediated negotiations took place in August. New BCTF President Teri Mooring stated beforehand, “So there is no reason why we can’t get a deal in those eight days.” However no progress was made so the mediator called for a “recess” until September 23. Mooring says a negotiated settlement can be reached and that no vote on job action has been authorized at this time. Local associations will be holding membership meetings during this period to take stock of the situation. She vowed, “Rolling back our restored [contract] language is not something we will entertain” and “concessions need to come off the table.”
Barbara Biley is the MLPC candidate in the Vancouver Island riding of Courtenay-Alberni.