‘Tears of joy’ for teachers following court ruling

BCTF, provincial employer to return to negotiating table following Supreme Court of Canada decision

Local teachers joined their counterparts in celebrating last week’s Supreme Court of Canada decision to restore collective bargaining language stripped by the provincial government in 2002. But it will be some time before any budget impacts or teacher staffing levels are seen at local schools.

“This is now a provincial matter,” School District 69 (Qualicum) superintendent Rollie Koop said. “It’s not on our radar screen at this point until we receive further direction. We’re as curious as everyone else where this is going to go.”

Last week, the Supreme Court upheld a 2012 B.C. Supreme Court ruling in a battle that pit the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) constitutional right to collective bargaining against the provincial government’s pursuit of public-policy objectives as they impact teachers’ working conditions, including class size and special needs support.

“What’s exciting for teachers is our understanding of collective bargaining is going to be upheld and that we can negotiate our working conditions — which we’ve said for many years is our kids’ learning conditions,” said Norberta Heinrichs, president of the Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association (MATA). “We’re excited about the prospect. I know there were tears of joy.”

Since the 2012 provincial court ruling, the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers Association have signed a five-year agreement. During those 2014 negotiations, the parties signed a letter of understanding that the judgement of the pending Supreme Court case could affect the status of the agreement.

“Basically, the parties foresaw that there might be a decision that may change the landscape,” said Koop. “The parties will re-open the collective agreement and bargain from the restored language.”

In a statement released in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court decision, Finance Minister Michael de Jong assured students, parents, teachers and employees in the public education system that the ruling will not disrupt instruction.

“The (2014) collective agreement remains in place, and the employer and the BCTF will now meet to discuss how we move forward to address this aspect of the ruling,” he said.

de Jong claimed the Court’s ruling affirmed governments have the ability to legislate amendments to collective agreements, “However, the process to legislate specific amendments in Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act (2012), was flawed.”