Bill 22 was a hammer where a feather was needed, but, thanks to some fancy footwork by mediator Charles Jago, the worst elements of the law were rendered moot, an agreement was reached and B.C.’s public school teachers and their employers will live to fight another day. While B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Susan Lambert characterized the mediation process as a sham, labelled the pressure teachers were under as bullying and the agreement the best that could be achieved under duress, some modest improvements were gained, albeit not in wages. More importantly, the two-year contract ending in 2013 contains few if any of the concessions demanded by the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association. True, there are no improvements in class size and composition language, and the government chose to tighten the screws on teachers by eliminating limits without giving teachers any of the control they sought in classroom organization.
The government claims its $165-million Learning Improvement Fund will allay some of the concerns by putting more teachers and special education assistants in the classroom. It’s unlikely teachers will be satisfied, given their ongoing concerns about what they view as government attacks on their professionalism, autonomy, control over classroom organization and wages. For parents, the teachers’ agreement is a relief after months of uncertainty.
But the relief will be short-lived unless the economy turns around, the government changes or it turns out that more money does make a difference to in the classroom – although there will never be enough cash to solve every issue.
What’s really needed is a completely new way for teachers and the province to come to terms on a contract. The latest fiasco is yet another example of how the existing paradigm of labour negotiations simply doesn’t work for public education.
– Black Press