Teachers looking into full-scale strike 

Education Minister doesn't want to rush teacher legislation

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOHN FRENCH - Teachers in School District 48 are bracing for a new legislated work contract imposed by the provincial government.
  • Photo by John French
  • Teachers in School District 48 are bracing for a new legislated work contract imposed by the provincial government.

The threat of teachers taking strike action has the B.C. Education Minister suggesting his government won't rush a legislated work contract for teachers across B.C. through the legislature in Victoria.

The BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF) met with the Labour Relations Board (LRB) Monday night to ask for a ruling on whether teachers can move to a full-scale strike. Specifically, the BCTF is looking to remove services for eight days in a two week period. A ruling from the LRB is expected on today.

Education Minister George Abbott told reporters Monday that if the teachers do walk off the job the parents of the 520,000 students in B.C. will have a challenge finding child care.

"I don't know what the LRB will say and I don't know what the (BC)TF membership will say when canvassed by their leadership," said Abbott in the legislature at Victoria.

Abbot also told reporters he is open to having a mediator work with the two sides on non-monetary issues.

"Currently, we have a gap of $2.06 billion which was the 15 per cent proposal that the (BC)TF put through," Abbott told reporters on Monday. "One does not mediate a gap of 2.06 million and net zero, however within the bounds of net zero there may remain a possibility of talking about things that might be done."

Meanwhile, Whistler teachers gathered at the Whistler Conference Centre Monday after school to stage a protest rally. News photographer Joern Rohde was there and he said a group of about 25 teachers marched to Highway 99 and through the village.

After the provincial government suggested it will bring in a legislated contract for teachers across the province this week the BCTF encouraged teachers to show up for work just on time and to leave school once classes are finished at the end of the day Monday.

Beth Miller, the B.C. Teachers' Federation representative in School District 48, said Monday was a teach-only day.

"We're trying to keep it a fairly strict bell-to-bell kind of day," she said of the school day on Monday.

Miller said she believes it won't take long for the provincial government to impose a contract but Abbott told reporters in the legislature in Victoria that he believes there won't be "any undo haste" in getting the legislation passed.

The top leadership of the BCTF made it clear they oppose the idea of a contract being imposed on the membership.

"Teachers are unequivocally opposed to legislation to end this round of bargaining," said BCTF President Susan Lambert on Friday (Feb. 24). "It's yet another assault on free collective bargaining rights."

Added Miller: "It was pretty disingenuous on the part of George Abbott to be scratching his head on Thursday saying, 'Oh well, I guess we will be spending our weekend writing legislation.' If you ask me, they have had that legislation written since last June.

"I don't think the government has ever had any intention of truly bargaining with teachers."

According to Miller, the provincial government has never moved from its "net zero" position while the teachers have made alternate proposals and moved off positions. She said teachers from Squamish to the northern end of the Sea to Sky corridor are frustrated with the whole process of negotiating a work contract with the province.

"We feel like we're being bullied," she said.

Miller predicted that teacher morale is going to drop once the legislated contract is in place. She isn't ruling out the teachers taking a hard line of their own once the contract is in place. Miller said that while teachers really don't want to escalate to a walkout, they may do just that.

"There is essential services legislation but it hasn't ever been tested in terms of a full walkout," said Miller.

What the teachers do after the legislation comes down will depend on the contents of the legislation. Miller said that everything depends on "how big a hammer" the government uses on teachers.

"Legal versus illegal does not mean moral versus immoral in our view," Miller said. "Sometimes you have to stand on your principles."

Trevor Hughes, the assistant deputy minister of industrial relations, checked in on the bargaining between the BCTF and the BC Public School Employers' Association and reported last week that the two sides likely weren't going to reach a voluntary settlement after a year of negotiations.

Abbott said last week that he is deeply disappointed that students are being impacted by the labour unrest, and he had hoped to be the first education minister in 30 years to facilitate a negotiated contract between teachers and government.

"I'm not prepared to let this go on any further," Abbott said at the time. He added that he is concerned about reports of an increased failure rate at the high school level and the lack of report cards.

"This is a dispute that I in good conscience as an education minister can't see continue," said Abbott.

Pique will have ongoing coverage of the impact the labour situation has on schools in Sea to Sky Country.

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