Campbell River teachers marched down Dogwood Street Monday afternoon holding signs and sending a clear message that they will fight the provincial government for the right to negotiate a new contract.
Teachers carried signs reading, Mediation: Yes! Legislation: No!, Teachers Need A Negotiated Contract and Free Collective Bargaining a Democratic Right in response to Education Minister George Abbott’s announcement that the province is working on legislation to put an end to the contract dispute.
Neil Thompson, president of the Campbell River District Teachers’ Association, said the legislation is in the process of being drafted and will be complete sometime this week (update: legislation tabled Tuesday).
“We would like to have an independent mediator and or arbitrator come up with a collective agreement we can agree on and accept,” Thompson said. “We’re looking for something we can negotiate on. That’s our democratic right and the government seems to have forgotten that.”
The battle between the B.C. Teachers Federation, the B.C. government and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association has waged since March 2011 and teacher job action has been in place since the first day of school in September 2011.
Abbott said that despite 78 face-to-face bargaining sessions the groups remain as far apart today as they were one year ago. Abbott said there is no end in sight to the impasse and has directed his staff to prepare legislation that could impose a contract on teachers.
Since September, teachers have been under Phase 1 job action, meaning that although teachers are in class every day, they have abstained from administrative tasks such as writing report cards, filling out forms, meeting with principals and supervising playgrounds.
But Thompson said that could change as early as this week.
“We have an escalation vote on Wednesday (today),” Thompson said. “The BCTF (teachers federation) has said if it wants to escalate beyond Phase 1 it would vote on that. We have already gone to the Labour Relations Board to see what we can do within the essential services ruling to escalate (job action).”
Thompson said the teachers federation is willing and ready to negotiate but the employer has a mediator with a zero mandate, meaning the province holds all the rights to any bargaining – not a mediator nor the employer.
“I don’t know how you can call that bargaining when they put handcuffs on the mediator,” Thompson said.
Teachers are seeking wage increases in line with other provinces, as well as improved classroom conditions and the right to negotiate class size, which the B.C. Supreme Court has ruled should be part of teacher negotiations. The employer says the teachers came to the table with proposals costing $2 billion, including significant increases to salary, benefits, preparation time, and leave time.