As the new school year begins, BC teachers are disappointed that the employer has not returned to the bargaining table with a mandate to invest in public education through enhanced funding for services to students and a fair increase to wages and benefits for teachers.
Despite an April 2011 Supreme Court decision that ruled BC Liberal laws stripping class-size and composition clauses to be unconstitutional, the provincial government has done nothing to rectify the situation. By removing class-size limits and guarantees of services to students with special needs, the contract-stripping legislation enabled the government to cut vast sums each year from the education budget: an annual amount equivalent to $336 million in 2011 dollars.
“These funds have been illegally taken away from students, from teachers, and from the public education system,” said Susan Lambert, president of the BC Teachers’ Federation. “Teachers are determined in this round of bargaining to regain these lost services, jobs, and resources to meet students’ needs.”
Although negotiations began in March and the collective agreement expired in June, to date there has been absolutely no progress in bargaining. “Government continues to come empty-handed to the table, persisting with their sub-zero mandate. Government spending decisions are a question of priorities, and we believe children should be the number one priority.”
In order to increase pressure on the employer, the BCTF will file strike notice today to take effect at 7:00 a.m. Tuesday, September 6, 2011. Phase 1 of job action means that teachers will not be performing administrative tasks such as filling out forms, collecting data, meeting with principals or other administrators, supervising on playgrounds, or writing report cards.
“Teachers’ attention will be totally focused on the students in their classrooms, and not on the many bureaucratic and administrative tasks that take away from the joy of teaching and learning,” Lambert said, adding that teachers will be in close communication with parents if the need arises.
Lambert called on Education Minister George Abbott and Premier Christy Clark to send their negotiators back to the bargaining table with a new mandate to achieve a negotiated settlement that will meet the needs of students and teachers alike.
She noted that BC teachers’ salaries have fallen far behind those of colleagues in other provinces, and benefits have not been improved in more than 15 years. Funding cuts also mean scarce classroom supplies, including basics such as photocopy paper and textbooks.
“If the Premier is serious about her ‘Families First’ agenda, she cannot say there is no money for public education. It’s the single most important service to the health and well-being of the province’s children,” Lambert said.