January 29, 2014–Teachers in British Columbia won a big victory in the courts two days ago in their long battle against cuts to education services in the province. The B.C. Supreme Court issued a ruling against the government over draconian legislation in 2002 (Bill 28) that increased classroom sizes, decreased special education services and restricted or eliminated teacher bargaining rights on these and other matters.
The court issued punitive measures against the government, saying that it has to restore classroom sizes and education services, including respective staffing levels, to 2002 levels. It issued a $2 million award to the BC Teachers Federation for “compensation, vindication and deterrence”.
The court also says the government is liable for formal grievances that teachers may launch over violations of collective agreement rights dating from the 2002 legislation.
Responding to the court decision, BCTF President Jim Iker said, “It’s a great day for democracy, a great day for all working people across Canada.”
The court decision is a specific ruling against a 2012 law that replaced Bill 28, following an earlier court ruling by the same judge against the original legislation. Teachers took job action in early March, 2012. Bill 22 ordered them back to work with threats to financially cripple the union and was essentially a cut and paste of Bill 28.
A new collective agreement was reached in June, 2012, but the disputed issues over classroom size and library and special education services were unresolved. Teachers went back to court against Bill 22.
Since 2002, BC has lost 1,400 specialist teachers, 700 special education teachers, more than 100 counselors and 300 teacher librarians. During the same time, the number of public school students has dropped slightly from 621,000 to 559,000.
Premier Christy Clark says her government is studying whether to appeal the latest court ruling. But that would be a fool’s errand. The government’s education ‘policy’ now lies in tatters and can hardly be revived through another round of confrontation. The collective agreement signed in 2012 has expired and a new round of teacher bargaining is set to begin.
On other public sector bargaining fronts, the government is faring better. In recent months, it has won five-year collective agreements with 5.5 per cent wage increases from some 67,000 public sector workers. Most are members of the BC Government and Services Employees Union, but also include 16,000 members of the Health Sciences Association (health professionals).
The new agreements also introduce a novel notion. The government says it may provide up to one half a per cent of wage increase for each year that the provincial GDP exceeds a pre-determined amount.
Last year, Premier Clark said she wants to see a ten year collective agreement with teachers.