In the wake of a labour ministry report today finding that a negotiated settlement is “very unlikely,” BC teachers are calling upon the government not to impose a contract through legislation but rather to enable other labour relations mechanisms to achieve a fair agreement.
“Teachers are looking for fair alternatives, such as mediation or even arbitration, to help the parties find a resolution to this dispute,” said BCTF President Susan Lambert. “This government has a choice. It can help find the compromises necessary to reach a settlement, or it can use bullying legislation that will only make matters worse.”
Lambert pointed out that calling for mediation is an exceptional and unusual step for any union. “But it’s one we are prepared to take in the hope of achieving a settlement and avoiding the damaging repercussions of an imposed contract,” she said.
The BCTF is urging BCPSEA to accept the offer to mediate the dispute. “If they aren’t able to do so, we would request the Labour Relations Board to appoint a mediator or, failing that, an independent arbitrator. We want to exhaust all the options available to us, even to calling for an independent arbitrator if necessary,” Lambert said.
“Teachers are disappointed, but not surprised, at today’s report. It appeared from the outset that the government was using this process as a precursor to legislation,” Lambert said. “Now, we are urging the government not to repeat a pattern that has left a legacy of damaged relationships and deteriorating learning conditions in BC schools.”
She emphasized that teachers are determined not to accept additional stripping of hard-won collective agreement rights. The employer has tabled a long list of concession demands including: virtual elimination of seniority; no more fair process in hiring; forced transfers at the initiative of the employer; dismissal after one unsatisfactory evaluation; management control over teachers’ professional development; and more.
A legislated deal has been a worry for teachers since March 2011, when Education Minister George Abbott attended the BCTF annual general meeting and speculated that this round of bargaining could conclude in imposed legislation. Since job action began in September, the minister has repeatedly suggested that collective bargaining would not be successful and the Legislature would have to act. Even throughout the process of the fact-finder’s inquiry, he continued to predict the foregone conclusion of a legislated contract.
“We can only conclude that from day one this government had no intention whatsoever of bargaining a collective agreement with teachers,” Lambert said.
The only legislation BC teachers actually want to see would redress the unconstitutional Bills 27 and 28, which have had such a devastating impact on learning conditions in schools province-wide,” Lambert added. “We believe this government must genuinely recognize that it violated the Charter rights of 41,000 teachers and that breach needs to be rectified in a meaningful way.” The BC Supreme Court set a deadline of April 13, 2012 for government action.