A tangle of technical issues is being sorted through by the B.C. Labour Relations Board this week as public school teachers and their employers prepare for another disputed school year.
The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) applied to the labour board for a ruling expected by Friday on the scope of province-wide bargaining issues. The employer says the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has failed to present a full set of proposals at the provincial table.
“The BCTF continues to attempt to negotiate provincial matters and matters that may not be bargained at this time (including class size, class composition and staffing ratios) at local tables,” BCPSEA said in a bargaining bulletin.
Joan Erb, president of the Cariboo Chilcotin Teachers Association, said the LRB has been asked to clarify which issues can be bargained locally and which ones provincially.
“There are issues that are unique to the local (level) and to take it all to the provincial table is just ridiculous. I’m very anxious to see what the ruling is,” Erb said.
“Everybody likes to know what’s going on and neither side, BCPSEA nor us, can really do anything until we know what the rules are.”
The LRB, BCTF and BCPSEA, Erb said, seem to be able to rationally discuss things. Erb noted earlier this month the board ruled on this September’s job action and approved much of it; however, it determined teachers must complete attendance, which was an item they had initially decided not to as part of job action. That LRB decision was accepted by both the BCTF and BCPSEA.
In June, teachers voted 90 per cent in favour of a strike mandate. In July, BCTF negotiators tabled demands including wage parity with other provinces, doubled bereavement leave to provide 10 days paid leave on the death of a friend or relative, increased preparation time and a retirement bonus that would give departing teachers an extra five per cent payout for each year worked.
BCPSEA said the pay demand would mean a 21 per cent raise for some teachers to match Alberta rates. It calculates that the entire package of demands would cost an extra $2.2 billion.
The B.C. government has settled contracts with a majority of its unionized staff this year, working within a “net zero” budget mandate. Education Minister George Abbott has repeatedly indicated that the same mandate applies to teacher talks, with any extra costs offset by savings in other contract areas.
BCTF president Susan Lambert said without a negotiated settlement by the time school begins Sept. 6, teachers will start phase one of strike action by refusing all non-essential duties.
The relationship between the two sides is reflected in an LRB arbitration handed down Aug. 5. The BCTF accepts that taking attendance is an essential service, but tried to refuse to send attendance information to the school office.
The LRB refused the request for a second time. The board decided that both monitoring attendance and sending in the results represent a safety issue, and ruled that teachers can’t refuse it and force a management person to collect the data.
Erb said come September teachers will do everything they normally do other than supervision and the performance of administrative duties. Teachers will informally report to parents but won’t use ministry-approved reporting forms.
—With files from Tom Fletcher