BC teachers fight for better public education is heating up

130501-CranbrookTeachersProtestClark-BCTF-01By Roger Annis

VANCOUVER–Teachers in British Columbia are voting this week to give their collective bargaining team a strike mandate in the new round of collective bargaining begun earlier this year.

The result will be a strong mandate. That’s because the BC government has reached new lows of late in its treatment of teachers, parents and the entire education system.

It began with a BC Supreme Court judge’s ruling last month. A judge said the government’s 2002 legislation stripping teachers of the right to bargain class sizes and special education needs was a violation of Canada’s constitutionally protected right to collective bargaining of unions. As teachers have argued ever since, the legislation ushered in a long decline in education standards and outcomes in the province. (Read a report on the BC Supreme Court decision, published on Rank and File.ca on Feb. 12, 2014.)

The judge also said the government violated expected codes of decency last year when it tried to provoke a strike of teachers. It believed a strike would help it convince a weary public that teachers, not the government, were the obstinate party in that year’s round of collective bargaining and were putting their narrow interests ahead of the needs of students and parents.

The government’s stinging rebuke at the hands of the Supreme Court followed a similar rebuke by the court in 2011. Back then, the government responded by doing a cut and paste of the 2002 legislation into a “new”, replacement law which continued to deny teachers the right to bargain the age-old issues of class size and special education needs.

Now the government is throwing fuel onto the fire:

  • It is appealing the latest Supreme Court ruling. Its determination to reverse the ruling is underscored by the fact it is reaching outside of its own legal team and has hired a high-priced, corporate lawyer to handle its appeal.
  • It has asked the Supreme Court, via a different judge, to stay the implementation of the Court’s ruling. The implementation order includes that the government must restore class sizes and special needs to 2002 levels and that teachers who believe their rights were infringed by the 2002 legislation can appeal. The government says it can’t “afford” to obey the Court and it falsely claims that the court’s decision will cost the provincial treasury up to $1 billion. On Feb. 26, the government won its request.
  • And the government has tabled a provocative offer in negotiations—a ten year collective agreement with wage rises in the first five years of less than one per cent per year. That’s less than the amounts it is signing with other public service workers, and it takes no account of the fact that teacher salaries have fallen behind their counterparts in other provinces over the past ten years.
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