Let me begin by saying that I am a teacher, and have been teaching for 21 years.
I have found that the information reported in the media regarding what is taking place in the current dispute between the BCTF, BCPSEA and the Provincial Government, has been incomplete. The focus has been on wage increases, and many significant areas have been missed in the information given to the public, particularly with regards to Bill 22 and what it really means. The public knows that it includes the net-zero mandate and that it introduces a government appointed mediator.
The public has been made aware that it increases class size limits and eliminates special needs provisions in terms of determining class size and composition. It is what they don’t know, and what has been missed that I would like to address.
The most significant part of the legislation, (Bill 22-2012-Education Improvement Act) that has not been given the scrutiny it deserves, is located in Section 6: Mediation, subsection (c), items (i) (ii) and (iii). These three items in the legislation, for which mediation has been called for, have been alluded to, but not given the amount of attention they deserve, because they seem fairly insignificant at first glance. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. These items are a fundamental attack on the basic principles for which unions were created, to protect the rights of workers from unfair dismissal, and to protect employment based on seniority. While on the surface these clauses may seem to be reasonable, one needs to know what they really mean, and how they relate to what the employer, and the government, is trying to get the teachers to agree to. Following is a brief explanation of what these items entail.
6(i) effective feedback and evaluation of teachers to promote improvement
The first item in this clause is about eliminating due process in dismissal of employees. In essence the employer wants to be able to dismiss an employee after a single unsatisfactory evaluation, without any due process. This means that a teacher could be fired, after only one evaluation, without any recourse to improve or grieve the situation. This is fundamentally wrong.
6(ii) alignment of professional development with teaching needs
The second clause is about eliminating professional autonomy and the ability of teachers to decide what they need to work on in terms of their own professional development. The employer wants to be able to dictate to teachers what professional development they must take. It is important to point out here, that five professional development days were added into the school year, over 20 years ago, without additional pay, at the request of teachers in contract negotiations where concessions were made in order to add this to the contract. Now the employer wants to be able to dictate what teachers do on those days.
6(iii) scheduling and selection of teachers suited to student needs
This third item is the most controversial. This clause is about eliminating seniority. The employer wants to be able to pick and choose whoever they think is the most “suitable” for the job, regardless of seniority. Instead, seniority would only be looked at as a tie-breaker. So even if a senior teacher was qualified for a position, someone with less seniority could be given a job, if the employer felt they were more “suitable”. This opens up the door to subjective practices and favouritism.
All public sector unions should be paying careful attention to the writing on the proverbial wall, carefully hidden within this legislation, and the rhetoric that is being used by both the education minister and the premier to hide the intent of these items. This legislation is not simply an attack on teachers; it is an attack on unions. Concealed within the legislation are assaults on seniority provisions, professional autonomy and due process regarding fair dismissal. This is what the government doesn’t want you to know.
The second part of the legislation that has not been scrutinized enough is that of the mediation proposed. It is true that the BCTF and BCPSEA asked for mediation, and it is true that the government included mediation in this legislation. However, the fact is that labour mediation typically happens between two sides that are willing to negotiate fairly and in good faith. When one side agrees to mediation, but is not willing to negotiate certain items, and then dictates the items that will be negotiated, this is not good faith bargaining, making mediation meaningless. Essentially the employer is offering nothing and still expecting teachers to make concessions within the contract. This is fundamentally unfair and negotiating in bad faith. So while they may be appointing a mediator, it is a deceptive ploy to gain public support.
Another, smaller part of the legislation, that is being overlooked, is that even though they have a $165 million fund to compensate teachers through various means for classrooms, that require additional support, if the costs go above that amount, (and they will), school boards will again have to find the money to do so within their current budgets. So yet again, this government is adding costs and requirements to our local school boards, without providing money to pay for them. This will result in a further reduction in resources available for schools and your children.
Another item that has also been overlooked by the media is the fact that teachers have been teaching all this time, despite our job action. While formal report cards have not gone home, teachers around the province have been letting parents know how their children are doing. Parents have been and always will be able to contact their child’s teacher and find out how they are doing. Teaching hasn’t stopped just because formal report cards haven’t gone out. Grade 12 marks and report cards have in fact been done, due to the nature of what is necessary for their further education. It is not teacher’s intentions to hurt students or parents. Education is still going on. In addition, unlike in some previous disputes, teachers are still volunteering for extra-curricular activities, and spending countless hours providing activities for students, none of which they are compensated for. The way things are presented in the media would have people believe that teachers are doing nothing, and that is simply not true.
The fact is that most teachers are not looking for a 15% wage hike, even though that is what is being presented at the bargaining table. Everyone knows that our current bargaining system promotes extremes being proposed by both sides, in order to reach a compromise. A fair cost of living increase would be nice, but if you polled teachers in general, you would find that wages are not the key stumbling block in negotiating a fair settlement. Teachers know that there is only so much money to go around and we get that things are tough in this economy. What we are really fighting against, what we have been fighting against for the last ten years is the stripping away of rights that were negotiated, fought for, and paid for by teachers in the past. Over the past 30+ years, teachers have given up wage hikes and other benefits in order to improve classroom size and composition for the benefit of students and their education. The government wants to remove these rights without acknowledging that concessions were already made to gain these rights in the first place. It wants to erase history, and turn back time. They continue to act illegally and unconstitutionally, with no consequences. Even when their actions are proven to be illegal by the courts, they just change the law, and all without consequence. This is what is so frustrating to teachers. We try to abide by the law and keep students out of the politics but the government doesn’t fight fair.
We want to be able to give children the attention they deserve in our classrooms. We want to be able to meet the individual needs of each and every student so that they can be successful when they leave school and enter the workforce. We don’t want to see some students left behind. This cannot be done in classes of 30+ students. This can’t be done when classes are full of students with specific special learning needs and inadequate resources. As always, teachers will teach, as best as they can, within the limits that they are subjected to, but in the end, it will be the children, and our future generations, that will ultimately pay for the lack of resources and underfunding of our education system, which is simply unacceptable.
Prince Rupert District Teachers’ Union