After six months of failed negotiations, B.C. teachers served 72-hour strike notice to take affect next week when students head back to school September 6.
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s (BCTF) “phase one” job action is “teach only,” eliminating day-to-day administrative duties like filling out forms, meeting with administrators, supervising playgrounds, writing report cards and collecting money for school fees, which local representative Debbie Morran said takes up an increasing portion of teacher’s time.
“This will take a lot of things off teachers’ shoulders, make teaching a pleasure again,” said Morran, new president of the Mount Arrowsmith Teacher’s Association. “The start of the school year is extremely heavy on administrative tasks.”
The BCTF said teachers will continue to support sports and extracurricular activities.
School District 69 (Qualicum) superintendent Jim Ansell confirmed that classes will start this week as expected and students shouldn’t notice many changes or impact.
He said the district has been working closely with MATA to ensure a smooth start to the school year and at most there may be minor adjustments around things like safe supervision.
The union and B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) have held over 30 bargaining sessions since March and the teachers’ contract expired June 30, but both sides have expressed frustration and skepticism over a lack of progress.
The BCTF is looking for improved class size and composition rules since a Supreme Court decision in April that Liberal legislation stripping class-size and composition clauses are unconstitutional.
The union is also looking for a salary increase, a return to more local bargaining, and improved benefits, which Morran said haven’t changed in 15 years.
BCTF president Susan Lambert said that despite the high cost of living, B.C. teachers salaries have dropped from leading the country to eighth.
The provincial government meanwhile is pursuing a two-year “net-zero mandate” that requires any public service budget increases to be offset by other cuts.
Morran said they are calling it a “sub-zero” policy since any improvements in one area would mean taking away from another.
“Government continues to come empty-handed to the table, persisting with their sub-zero mandate,” said Lambert in a press release. “Government spending decisions are a question of priorities, and we believe children should be the number one priority,”
On Tuesday, minister of education George Abbott said they would step in to end any full strike by teachers.
“Whether it will culminate in a complete withdrawal of services, or a strike, I guess remains to be seen,” he said at a press conference Wednesday. “But one need only to look at history to know that there have been numerous occasions in recent decades where these withdrawals have resulted in what is termed a legislated solution.”
“And, obviously, no government in British Columbia will stand aside and let schools be closed for a protracted period of time.”
Morran said, “It’s really disappointing the minister would take that action in the midst of negotiations. We’re trying to keep negotiating in good faith, but it’s not going very well.”
Neither Morran or Lambert would speculate on timelines or further strike action and pointed out any escalation would require a vote by the provincial membership and a ruling by the Labour Relations Board since schools are designated an essential service.
Both sides have agreed to meet at least through Friday.
Ansell said the district will be sending detailed newsletters home with students on Tuesday, the latest news will be posted on their website (www.sd69.bc.ca) and parents can always contact the district with concerns.