After many days of behind-the-scenes discussions at the Labour Relations Board, it has become clear that the provincial government never intended to try to reach a solution in its dispute with BC’s 41,000 public school teachers.
“Since February 20, the BC Teachers’ Federation has been working diligently with the LRB to get an independent mediation process under way, unconstrained by preconditions. We agreed to modify our proposals significantly and made it clear that teachers were willing to compromise on every objective, including salary. As I have said many times: Everything is negotiable,” said BCTF President Susan Lambert. “But the government’s complete intransigence at the LRB, coupled with its move to push Bill 22 through the Legislature by this Thursday, have dashed any hope for a mediated settlement.”
Lambert even phoned Education Minister George Abbott last Friday to ensure he was aware of the process ongoing at the LRB, and the BCTF’s openness to authentic mediation.
Yesterday LRB Associate Chair Michael Fleming wrote to both parties saying: “I am unable to conclude that, at this juncture, the appointment of a mediator under Section 74 would be of any actual assistance in helping the parties to achieve a collective agreement.”
“It’s now perfectly clear that this government never intended to allow an independent mediation process to take place. They simply aren’t interested in a fair solution, only in further attacking teachers’ rights to bargain collectively,” Lambert said, adding that teachers have tried every possible avenue to reach an agreement: working with the government’s fact-finder, calling for mediation, even agreeing to arbitration.
“By contrast, government has refused to budge one iota off its opening position of net zero and deep, damaging concession demands. Now they are aggressively pushing Bill 22 through, even as they’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertisements attacking teachers.”
Lambert noted that public opinion polls in recent weeks have shown overwhelming support among British Columbians for a mediated solution and even Melanie Joy, chair of the BC Public School Employers’ Association, has written to Abbott calling for an independent mediator.
“Teachers across the province are frustrated and angered by the government’s insistence on the legislative hammer,” Lambert said. “Bill 22 does much more than eliminate teachers’ bargaining rights. It also absolves government of any obligation to provide the funding needed so that every child can receive a program of learning tailored to their individual needs.”
The BCTF’s 96th Annual General Meeting will take place in Vancouver, March 17–20, 2012. About 700 teachers from across BC will come together to debate and agree on an action plan of resistance to Bill 22.