One year ago today, British Columbia’s 41,000 public school teachers won a landmark victory when the BC Supreme Court declared Liberal legislation from 2002 to be unconstitutional and invalid.
Bills 27 and 28 stripped teachers’ collective agreements of class-size limits and guarantees of support for students with special needs. In addition, they prohibited teachers from being able to collectively bargain such contract provisions in the future. The bills had disastrous consequences for teachers’ working conditions and students’ learning conditions in classrooms across the province. As a result of the contract stripping, government was able to cut 3,000 full-time teaching positions, including almost 1,500 specialist teachers who worked with the most vulnerable students.
“Looking back, we were so overjoyed by the Supreme Court ruling because it seemed to bring an end to a decade of losses in our schools,” said BCTF President Susan Lambert. “A year later, our high hopes have been dashed by this government’s unwillingness to embrace the spirit of the ruling and repeal Bills 27 and 28, restore teachers’ collective bargaining rights, and reinvest the hundreds of millions of dollars cut every year from services to students.”
Although the Supreme Court gave the government one year to rectify the situation, the BCTF repeatedly called on Premier Christy Clark, who brought in the offending legislation as Education Minister, to act promptly and not make students wait another year in underfunded schools and overcrowded classes. Unfortunately, neither Clark nor Education Minister George Abbott chose to do so.
Instead, they brought in the controversial Education Improvement Act, or Bill 22, which has been roundly condemned by teachers across BC. Next week teachers will participate in a province-wide vote on an action plan to continue active resistance to the bill, and the BCTF will also mount a legal challenge.
“This bill ensures that students and parents will have to endure yet another year in worsening conditions,” Lambert said.
She vowed that teachers will not give up their struggle to ensure that class size and composition can once again be freely negotiated.
“Collective bargaining is one of the strongest tools we have to make improvements to public education, and we fully intend to continue to assert our rights,” Lambert said. “As teachers we are sincere in our efforts to regain the quality learning conditions in our classrooms that we know students need and deserve. It’s time to reverse the damage done by these illegal and unconstitutional bills."