By Roger Annis
June 28 2012 – The BC Teachers Federation has reached an agreement with the BC government for a new collective agreement to cover the two years beginning July 2011.
The agreement fails to give teachers any progress on the two key items they were fighting to obtain, namely, a salary increase and the right to bargain class sizes. While it leaves in place the anti-education Bill 22 and its threat of further measures to degrade education services, that threat is set aside for all intents and purposes if the agreement is approved. Voting by teachers takes place June 28 and 29.
Bill 22 was adopted by the BC Legislature on March 17 of this year following three days of strike by teachers two weeks earlier. It outlaws teachers’ right to strike and it threatened further changes to education policy that the government was intending to implement next month, including how positions are filled, teacher evaluation processes, professional development procedures, and further removal of local voice over education issues.
Tara Ehrcke, president of the Greater Victoria Teachers Association, is speaking out publicly against the negotiated deal, urging teachers to vote no. She says she will vote against the agreement because it fails to deal with wages, teacher preparation time, or class size and composition.
Writing on her blog, Ehrcke says, “Nothing in this agreement addresses these concerns for working and learning conditions and that is a loss for both teachers and students.” She also reports that the head of the BCTF local in Creston BC is advocating a ‘no.’
Ehrcke explained her views today on CBC Radio One’s The Early Edition. The day before, BCTF President Susan Lambert outlined the agreement and why the union executive is recommending that it be approved. You can listen to the interview with Lambert here (beginning of the podcast).
At a press conference yesterday, Lambert said the new agreement will mean “worsening conditions” for teachers all across the board. “It changes noting in schools. It doesn’t alleviate conditions that teachers have been struggling with over the past decade. It does not reduce class sizes in any way, and it does provide the supports that have been cut from public education over the decade, especially to those students who struggle within our system.”
She said there will be a $100 million shortfall in required education funding next school year, meaning about 150 to 180 fewer teachers in the system. She said the shortfall means more cuts to programs and increasing class sizes.
“This cannot continue to happen. What has happened in this province over the last decade is a provincial government that has abrogated its responsibility.”
The only positive thing said about the agreement is that it avoids the further measures in Bill 22 that the government was preparing to impose next month.
Following adoption of Bill 22, BCTF leaders said they would fight to defeat it, including its very punitive measures against job action. Now they are launching a legal action that will take years to wind its way through the courts and whose eventual outcome may not resolve much.
Last year, the 41,000 member BCTF won a court ruling stating that Bills 27 and 28, dating from 2002(!) were a violation of teacher bargaining rights. The key item in these bills was the removal of the right of teachers to bargain class sizes. As part of Bill 22, the government withdrew these laws…and then wrote the new law in their spirit, if not in word. So now, part of the BCTF’s court action on Bill 22 is to get some legal enforcement of the ruling on Bills 27 and 28. (Background on the latest court action here.)
You can read here two commentaries by teachers from the time of adoption of Bill 22 that are published on the blog of Tara Ehrcke, :
- Commentary by Tara Ehrcke on Bill 22
- March 2012 statement by Victoria BC teachers for a strike against Bill 22
By all appearance, BCTF leaders have suspended job or protest action in the hope that the NDP will be elected in the election anticipated for 2013. That party has said it will not repeal Bill 22.
For more background on the BC teachers’ dispute, here is an excerpt from a lengthy article I wrote on April 12, 2012 on the state of the labour movement in Canada:
…Currently, the 41,000 members of the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) are locked in a bitter collective bargaining dispute with the provincial Liberal government. At issue are a two-year salary freeze that the government is seeking to impose as well as the right to bargain class sizes and other aspects of teachers’ work in the classroom.
The first job actions took place at the beginning of the school year, last September, when teachers refused to participate in voluntary activities and co-operate with administrators, including filling out report cards. When the government announced it would impose a draconian law to strip away the right to strike and send disputed issues to a skewed mediation process, teacher resistance escalated into a three-day strike March 5 to 7.
Regardless, Bill 22 was passed into law on March 17. It says “mediation” must correspond to the government’s guideline of a two-year, “net zero” increase to education spending. It also imposes stiff penalties on the union and individual teachers for strikes and related actions.
Further strike actions this school year appear unlikely. The union is even mulling participation in the government’s mediation, something it had said it would not do when the law was introduced.
Support for the teachers has been exceptionally strong throughout this battle. Students held a province-wide strike in support of the teachers on March 2. According to the BCTF, the popularity of the government is “in freefall.” This is echoed by commentators and recent polls.
The tenacity of teachers and the breadth of support is heartening, but broader labour support that would permit teachers to comfortably defy Bill 22 has been absent. The BCTF appears set on an alternative course of mounting a major effort over the coming year to unseat the government when the next provincial election takes place as anticipated in May 2013.
Polls have the opposition New Democratic Party leading the Liberals by a huge margin. But will the election of the NDP halt the decline in education services, including the sharp rise in “on-call” teaching positions (now close to 25 per cent of the workforce, according to a recent Vancouver Sun article)? The NDP has said it will not repeal Bill 22 nor has it said if and how it would satisfy teacher/parent/student grievances.
Roger Annis is a contributor for Rank and File Radio. His blog, A Socialist in Canada, is a compilation of writings and collection of other writings and weblinks. Roger can be contacted at rogerannis (at) hotmail.com.