Teachers: 10-year deal unfair

Government would have all the cards, Campbell River teachers say

Following on the heels of School District 72’s opposition to 10-year contracts for teachers, the local teachers’ association says a decade long deal between B.C. educators and their employer will never work.

Elaine Thompson, president of the Campbell River District Teachers’ Association, said there is not a lot of support for the B.C. government’s push for a 10-year deal which Premier Christy Clark pledged to implement during her most recent election campaign.

“All teachers that I have spoken to, as well as others in the education system, are opposed to a 10-year contract,” Thompson said.

The board of education sent a letter to Education Minister Peter Fassbender opposing the changes.

“A very strong turnout of teachers of Campbell River voted 99 per cent in favour of supporting our provincial bargaining team and opposing any government interference in the collective bargaining process,” Thompson said.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) had been quietly negotiating with its employer, the BC Public School Employers’ Association on a two-to-three year deal up until the May provincial election. But in the lead up to the election, Clark promised labour peace in classrooms for 10 years and previous negotiations were halted.

Thompson said Clark’s proposal won’t work for teachers.

“It proposes teachers give up our hard-won rights to bargain class size and composition,” Thompson said. “The framework would take away our newly regained right and silence teachers’ demands for smaller class sizes, support for special needs students, and resources for classrooms.

“The premier’s plan would put these important issues over to a policy table, which is no way to guarantee quality learning conditions.”

The policy council that would be tasked with handling those issues would consist of representatives from the union, schools boards and government.

Clarks’ proposal includes having salary increases for teachers linked to agreements in other major public sector unions. Clark noted that if teachers had agreed to that deal 10 years ago, they would be making more money today because teachers earn less than the average settlement for the public sector.

Thompson disagreed teachers would benefit.

“This is fundamentally unfair because under such a scheme government has all the cards,” she said. “The average of net zero is zero. The economic welfare of our members would be in the hands of other unions and government, and there would never be any opportunity to improve our salaries.  B.C. teachers’ salaries are lagging far behind those of other teachers in Canada, and the gap will only widen under this proposal.”

Thompson said the proposal would also lock teachers into contracts that couldn’t be updated for 10 years.

“The proposal would essentially freeze our collective agreements for a decade,” Thompson sad. “There would be no improvements in benefits, preparation time or any other terms or conditions of work, nor would there be any opportunity to address emergent issues in technology, the economy, or labour markets during the 10-year term.”

Thompson would like to see a deal in which conditions for teachers are improved.

She noted that B.C. has the worst student to educator ratio in the country, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada.

“In order to bring B.C.’s teacher staffing levels just up to the national average, the province would have to hire an astounding 6,600 more teachers,” Thompson said. “Over the past 12 years, severe underfunding has taken a toll on our schools and our student’s learning conditions. At present, per-student funding in B.C. is $1,000 below the national average. We need to see a plan to begin to reinvest in B.C. kids, for their future opportunities and for the social and economic well-being of our province.

The most recent teacher contract expired on June 30. Minister Fassbender appointed mediator Peter Cameron to contract negotiations last month.

Fassbender said that while negotiations between the BCTF and the BC Public School Employers’ Association were suspended by government, the progress made will not be lost.

“I want to assure all partners that while we have asked for a pause in bargaining, it is not the end of bargaining. We are not walking away from the table, we are walking toward it,” Fassbender said in a media release. “The work that has been done to date will not be lost. In fact, we want to build on it. These are necessary steps given we have accepted the BCTF’s long-held desire to bargain directly with government on provincial matters.

“We want to keep moving forward.”