November 13, 2014

BCTF wins pregnancy leave case at Supreme Court of Canada

JusticeYesterday, the Supreme Court of Canada sided with the BC Teachers’ Federation in its efforts to defend pregnancy leave rights. In a rare move, the justices of the Supreme Court issued an oral decision immediately after oral arguments were made. That decision was unanimous, agreeing with our union position that denying parental benefits to birth mothers, because they received pregnancy benefits, was discriminatory. 
Following the decision, BCTF President Jim Iker said: “this victory at the Supreme Court of Canada is one for all working women who are pregnant or may become pregnant in the future.” Jim also publicly acknowledged and thanked Robyn Trask and Diane MacDonald, the BCTF’s own in-house lawyers who argued the case, as well as the individual Surrey teachers and Surrey Teachers’ Association, who first took this fight on.
With this decision, the Supreme Court of Canada said employers cannot discriminate against pregnant women and that benefit plans for new parents must be consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The ruling stems from a grievance first filed by the STA and the BCTF in 2011 after teachers employed by the Surrey School District were denied parental leave benefits following the births of their children. The union took the position that birth mothers are entitled to pregnancy leave and that all parents (including birth mothers) are also entitled to parental leave. The union argued it was discriminatory to deny birth mothers parental leave because the two forms of leave serve different purposes.

At arbitration, the BCTF was successful in its arguments and the arbitrator found that the denial of parental benefits to birth mothers violated the Charter and the Human Rights Code. However, a subsequent ruling at the BC Court of Appeal overturned that arbitrator’s decision. Yesterday’s ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada restores the arbitrator’s decision and sends the matter back to the parties to renegotiate in a non-discriminatory manner. The arbitrator retains jurisdiction if the parties are unable to reach an agreement.  

For specific questions about pregnancy leave (leave for physical recovery following a birth) and parental leave (leave for caring for and bonding with a child) consult your local collective agreement. You should also consult your local association

Public funding, not corporate marketing

At the Representative Assembly on November 7 and 8, 2014, representatives from the North Vancouver Teachers’ Association brought forward a motion to oppose Chevron’s Fuel Your School program. The program encourages community members to fill up at Chevron gas stations in participating school districts with $1 from every sale over 30 litres going towards various classroom projects. The motion was passed.
The program has become a hot topic in the Vancouver School Board elections as one party has criticized the current board for following its own long-standing district policy in refusing to participate. The program requires teachers to report out on what they used the funding for. In addition, the Fuel Your School program is heavily branded and can easily bring Chevron's corporate identity and marketing materials into schools.

Just go to Chevron Fuel Your School on Facebook to see dozens of examples of Chevron putting their branding and messaging on boxes of supplies arriving at schools. There are also many pictures of children posing with large printouts of the company’s logo and slogans. Our public schools are not the appropriate place for such overt brand marketing to children as young as 5, 6, or 7 years of age.

While the Fuel Your School program has been a hot issue in the Vancouver election, it was actually teachers from North Vancouver who brought the motion to oppose it to the BCTF Representative Assembly after receiving many phone calls from teachers concerned about the program being contemplated in their schools. Other delegates representing Surrey, Gulf Islands, Burnaby, and Peace River South locals also spoke out against the program.

The real issue that should be the focus of these school board elections is inadequate public funding. Our schools need new provincial funding to ensure our students’ needs are met. The chronic lack of resources must be addressed at the provincial level, not by one-off corporate marketing and branding schemes. The province should also increase the corporate tax rate to provide more funding for public services such as education and healthcare. We encourage you to support local school trustee candidates who will be outspoken advocates for increased funding. Remember to vote on November 15.