Premier Christy Clark’s 10-year bargaining plan for public school teachers is flawed in a number of significant ways. It ignores court rulings, contradicts government’s own legislation, and puts at risk the current round of provincial bargaining.
On the surface, the premier’s rhetoric sounds conciliatory after more than a decade of conflict between the BCTF and the BC Liberals, but in reality the premier’s plan is another effort to severely limit teachers’ constitutional right to bargain and to intrude into the bargaining process yet again.
A key problem is that it ignores the ruling of the BC Supreme Court that teachers have the right to bargain working conditions, such as class size and class composition. The Liberals’ own Bill 22 also allows for these issues to be negotiated in this round but the premier’s new plan requires teachers to give up this hard-won right. Over the past decade, with Liberal policies regulating learning conditions, class sizes grew and support for students with special needs suffered.
As a consequence of chronic underfunding, BC has the worst student-educator ratio in the country, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada. In order to bring BC’s teacher staffing levels just up to the national average, the province would have to hire an astounding 6,600 more teachers. BC also lags the country in per-pupil funding. Currently this government spends $1,000 less per student than the national average.
Another major problem is that the plan would index teachers’ salaries to average increases negotiated by other government employees. This is fundamentally unfair because it effectively prohibits teachers from negotiating for their own salaries. Under such a scheme, government has all the cards. The average of net zero is zero. BC teachers’ salaries are lagging far behind those of other teachers in Canada, and the gap will only widen under this plan.
On February 14, 2013, in a meeting with the BCTF table officers, Education Minister Don McRae stated that no government could ever commit to 10 years of indexing because the economic climate changes.
We’re well into bargaining with BCPSEA along with the assistance of facilitator Mark Brown. Both parties have tabled their full packages and both sides are intent on reaching a negotiated agreement before June 30, 2013. Throughout this process, government representatives have been at the table and have never brought forward the premier’s 10-year scheme.
Teachers, more than anyone, would welcome stability in the education sector. But disrupting negotiations at this point is contrary to the premier’s stated goal of labour peace. For government to unilaterally suspend talks is the ultimate intrusion and could scuttle productive negotiations and prolong bargaining beyond June 30.
We want a fair deal for teachers and better support for students. A fair outcome can only be reached through a fair process, and resources being brought to the table.
The next few weeks may bring significant developments for this round of bargaining. We will do our very best to keep you informed. Please read updates you receive at school, attend local meetings, and share your perspectives with colleagues. Together, we must make decisions that will make a difference for teachers, students, and public education in BC.