Teachers’ service withdrawal challenged

The teachers’ employer has filed an application to have teachers’ withdrawal from extracurricular activities declared illegal

The teachers’ employer has filed an application to have teachers’ withdrawal from extracurricular activities declared illegal.

The application was filed by the BC Public School Employers’ on Wednesday while BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) head Susan Lambert was in Campbell River for the local teachers’ annual general meeting

“BCPSEA (BC Public School Employers’ Association) is taking us to the LRB (Labour Relations Board) for a decision that the BCTF has engaged in an illegal strike because of our withdrawal of extracurricular activities,” Lambert said at the downtown Campbell River and District Teachers’ Association office while fielding calls as the news was breaking.

Teachers across the province voted in April to withdraw participation with out-of-school sports teams, clubs, and other events such as graduation ceremonies, in protest of Bill 22, legislation passed by the government in March.

Lambert said because the strike action is based on voluntary activities, the employer has no grounds to appeal.

“I don’t think the LRB has any jurisdiction (to rule on) matters that are voluntary,” she said. “BCPSEA chooses at every opportunity to provoke confrontation.”

The employer, for its part, contends teachers’ service withdrawal includes duties that are required of all teachers and by not performing those duties they are engaging in an illegal strike that violates the  Labour Relations Code.

“Teachers are not withdrawing from either required or optional duties based upon individual choice but are, instead, acting in concert in a manner that constitutes a strike,” the BC Public School Employers’ Association said in a statement addressing its application. “The concerted withdrawal of all of these teacher duties has negatively curtailed the services available to students and parents, both in relation to ongoing educational support and the continuation of extracurricular activities.”

Lambert said the employers’ complaint is 60 pages long and also includes a piece on report cards, which teachers refused to write during phase one of their job action from September to March. Teachers did send home informal student status reports last month.

“Report cards have gone out, that seems to be a dead issue,” Lambert said.

Teachers have been embroiled in a bitter dispute between its employer and the provincial government since last year over contract negotiations. Teachers want a 15 per cent pay increase in line with inflation over the next three years while the government is standing firm on its two-year net zero mandate.

Teachers went on a three-day strike in March to protest what they say is an underfunded public education system.

That job action came to a halt a week later after Bill 22 was introduced, which imposes a six-month cooling off period and a government appointed mediator in Dr. Charles Jago, who the teachers union allege is biased.

Lambert said the teachers union filed a petition with the court Tuesday to have Jago’s appointment quashed. Jago has until June 30 to negotiate a new contract.

Bill 22 also fails to re-instate teacher bargaining on class size and composition, which was stripped away from teachers ten years ago – an action deemed unconstitutional by the BC Supreme Court last year.

Lambert said she has lost her faith in the government and does not see an agreeable end to the impasse in sight.

“I’m losing confidence in the rule of law. It seems you can violate a group’s constitutional rights; it’s very disconcerting,” Lambert said. “The only light at the end of the tunnel for teachers is in the classroom, with their kids. That light gives us a purpose. With the government, I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.”

What’s next for the teachers’ union is still up in the air. The current action plan expires June 30. Lambert said a decision on next school year may be made at a meeting in July and in August, during the union’s annual summer meeting. Lambert said she expects the government will impose terms and conditions on teachers by the September. That contract would be good until June 30, 2013 when teachers are expected to have class size negotiation rights re-instated in its collective bargaining process.