In an effort to break the logjam in the ongoing labour dispute, today the BC Teachers’ Federation is bringing a new reduced package of proposals to the provincial bargaining table. With this package, the BCTF has moved significantly from its opening position, dropping some initial proposals altogether and trimming others.
“Ever since bargaining opened last spring, we have clearly expressed to government and the BC Public School Employers’ Association that we are seeking a freely negotiated settlement that leads to better learning conditions for students and provides fair and reasonable improvements for teachers,” said BCTF President Susan Lambert.
“Unfortunately, government and BCPSEA keep coming to the table empty-handed and at the same time demanding that teachers give up fundamental employment rights. In almost 70 bargaining sessions they have refused to budge from this unfair and untenable position,” Lambert said. “By contrast, today we are making a significant move toward the kind of compromise that we all know is needed for negotiations to succeed. I sincerely hope that the government will come back to the table prepared to take commensurate steps to modify its position. There’s a lot at stake for schools, students, parents, and teachers. We are ready to do our part to reach a fair and reasonable deal.”
The package tabled today proposes a three-year agreement, with a salary increase based on a cost of living allowance in the first year, and COLA plus market adjustments over the next two years:
- Year 1: 3% COLA plus 0%
- Years 2 and 3: 3% COLA plus 3% market adjustment
The package also proposes modest improvements to benefits, which have not changed in 18 years, and to preparation time, which is crucial to providing students with individual attention and learning tailored to special needs. The overall cost would be about $300 million, a far cry from the enormously exaggerated figures that have repeatedly been put out by BCPSEA.
“Yes, $300 million is a lot of money,” Lambert acknowledged, “but look at the scale of the endeavour. Our public schools serve children in every community across our vast province. Quality public education is the most important investment any society can make, an investment in the future.”
She added: “It’s certainly a lot less than the cost of the stadium roof I see every day from my office window! And it’s less than the amount the BC Liberals have been able to take away from public education every year since 2002, when they illegally stripped our collective agreement of class-size and composition guarantees.”
Lambert urged government and the employer to look at the evidence of the large and growing gap between the salaries of BC teachers and their counterparts in the rest of Canada. “If they do, they'll understand why our members overwhelmingly reject net zero,” she said. Teachers in Alberta make $20,000 more than in BC, while those in Ontario make $15,000 more. BC teachers have taken zeros in recent years, and more would simply widen the income gap.
“Net zero amounts to a pay cut, while a cost of living adjustment is essentially a wage freeze. It’s perfectly reasonable that BC teachers want to keep up with inflation and move a little way towards catching up with teachers in other provinces,” Lambert said. “BC’s economy is stronger than most, yet other provincial governments have set their priorities to invest in classrooms, teachers, and kids, not to cut education budgets.”
Lambert called on Education Minister George Abbott to stop disavowing any responsibility for the outcome of the negotiations. “If he is sincere in his message about respect for the teaching profession, the minister should give BCPSEA a new mandate to reach a fair settlement, and stop speculating about imposing a legislated contract,” she said. “The value of a negotiated agreement lies in beginning to rebuild the relationship between BC teachers and the provincial government.”
Lambert noted that relations have been strained between the BC Liberals and the BCTF since 2002, when then-Education Minister Christy Clark brought in unconstitutional legislation to strip teachers’ collective agreements of all guarantees for smaller classes and services to students with special needs. Despite the BCTF’s successful Charter challenge in BC Supreme Court, the government still refuses to restore these protections for quality learning conditions.
“Teachers are looking back on a decade of contract stripping which enabled the government to take about $336 million out of the education budget annually. It’s been a decade of struggling to do more with less,” Lambert said. “We’ve seen schools close, libraries close, thousands fewer teachers, services to students cut to the bone—it’s got to stop! It’s time to reinvest in public education.”