Provincial government looks to change teachers’ bargaining

Premier looks for collaborative process; local teacers' rep says dialogue must be meaningful

Last week, Premier Christy Clark announced that there will be a review of the teacher bargaining process that will see government engage with the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and other education stakeholders on how best to make systemic improvements prior to the next round of bargaining.

“As we settle into a new school year, a key goal for government is to create a more stable learning environment for B.C.’s students and their families” said Premier Clark. “Imagine being able to negotiate a ten-year deal. Imagine a child starting Grade 2 this year moving through to graduation without ever having to experience labour unrest again. Can it be done? I don’t know. Is it worth trying? Absolutely. We need to put our preconceptions aside, we need to put the past behind us, and we need to be flexible and work with teachers to achieve long-term labour peace.”

Clark pointed to several years of bargaining that have led to  stress, strikes and disruption. “For the sake of teachers, students, parents, administrators, school staff and school trustees, we must come together in a collaborative process to bring about labour stability. That will require compromise on all sides.”

That’s something teachers are certainly willing to do, says Craig Hillman of the Kimberley Teachers’ Association, provided the government is indeed sincere and prepared to listen to teachers.

“I would say that we are always open to meaningful dialogue on how to create a bargaining structure that results in a fair contract for the teachers in our schools,” Hillman said. “If the government is really listening, I think they will hear that the current approach of using the legislation hammer every time things don’t line up is not creating an atmosphere of respect and collaboration in schools.”

“There will be a degree of skepticism, given this government’s history of unilateral actions of tearing up contracts and letting education funding fall behind. The process of consultation also creates a lot of questions: how is a 6 week window for dialogue going to result in any meaningful answers? Why would the Premier choose to do this right now? Is this just another public relations exercise?”

The process will be consulting stakeholders, including parents, school trustees and school administration through the rest of the October and November. Legislation or policy change is expected before bargaining starts next spring.

“Teachers asked for the bargaining process to be reviewed years ago, while we were mid-contract and the issues could be explored without the added pressure of a new round of negotiations and a provincial election on the horizon,” Hillman said. “We have a Representative Assembly meeting in Vancouver at the start of November, and I will be down there with the Kimberley Teacher’s elected representative. I’m not sure how many people are aware the government’s legislation last year forced a two year term onto the current agreement, so we have to start bargaining again in March, 2013.”

“We will be canvassing all the issues in the teacher bargaining system with the goal of bringing about long-term labour stability,” said Minister of Education Don McRae. “We need to move quickly to ensure that when negotiations resume early next year, they start on the best possible footing.”

Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald says that this latest move will either succeed or fail dependent upon the spirit with which it is entered. “The BC Liberals haven’t defined what they will change, but whenever you’re going to have meaningful negotiations there must be mutual respect. That has been lacking in recent years.”