With their current contract set to expire on June 30, 2011, teachers across BC now are in the first phase of an important round of bargaining to reach new collective agreements for the 41,000 members of the BC Teachers’ Federation.
“We know there are obstacles and challenges ahead, but we are eager to participate in a constructive round of good-faith bargaining to reach a negotiated settlement that meets the needs of teachers and students alike,” said BCTF President Susan Lambert. “In doing so, both the union and the employer can help make BC’s fine public education system even better.”
In preparation, local teacher associations have surveyed their members to ascertain their priorities, ratified their bargaining objectives, put their negotiating teams in place, and now are in negotiations with school district employers across the province.
As of March 1, 2011, one provincial bargaining table and 60 local tables have opened talks. The provincial table is the place to negotiate salaries, benefits, prep time, paid leave, and hours of work. Local tables will deal with all other matters of concern at the district level.
“In a province as vast and diverse as BC, the issues are very different from one school district to the next. For example, challenges facing schools in urban centres may not be relevant in rural areas and vice-versa, so it makes sense to have local negotiations to solve local problems,” said Lambert.
As always with teachers’ bargaining objectives, their working conditions and students’ learning conditions are inextricably linked.
Virtually all BC teachers believe that improvements to class size and composition are of critical importance: 96.8% in a member survey. “This presents an enormous challenge, since the Campbell Liberals legislated away the right to negotiate the very items teachers consider most important,” Lambert said, adding that the BCTF is awaiting a Supreme Court decision on its charter challenge of that legislation.
In the five-year term of this contract, BC teachers’ salaries have dropped from 3rd to 8th in Canada. “We believe BC teachers deserve salary commensurate with teachers in other provinces, and we know from our public polling that most British Columbians agree,” Lambert said.
She also noted that polling results show that 89% of British Columbians believe that new Premier Clark should ensure more co-operation with teachers and other education partners.