A Labour Relations Board decision on whether withdrawal from volunteer extracurricular activities by B.C. teachers constitutes an illegal strike won't come until next week at the earliest.
The LRB is scheduled to talk with the employers' association (BCPSEA) and the B.C. Teachers' Federation Monday. "We'll get a sense then what the board's plan or direction is, but they typically turn these types of decisions around quite quickly," explained BCPSEA CEO Hugh Finlayson Thursday morning. "I have no reason to believe that won't be the case here."
Teachers voted mid-April in favour of a BCTF "action plan" to protest Bill 22, including withdrawing from extracurricular activities, which they labelled volunteer work.
BCPSEA filed its application challenging that move with the LRB Wednesday.
Finlayson describes the application as a narrow matter. He said the BCTF was legally on strike between September and March, but when the provincial government legislation's (Bill 22) came in, it imposed a cooling-off period, which brought the strike to an end. "What we're seeing in the last number of weeks is essentially a continuation of phase one, which was the legal strike between September and March. If you look at what teachers did prior to the strike, that's what a return to normal looks like, returning back to what was done prior to their initiation of their legal strike," he said. "When the BCTF directs teachers and calls it a job action and has a list of about 20 things they will not do-they characterize anything outside the bells as voluntary and so direct teachers not to do them-you have a strike. You have a concerted action in furtherance of a particular objective. Really, it's a strike."
Mediation between the parties continues under government-appointed mediator Charles Jago, although the BCTF, which has called the mediation a "sham" is going to court to quash Jago's appointment. The LRB recently ruled it doesn't have jurisdiction in the matter.
The employers' association met with Jago twice this week and the BCTF met with him once. Finlayson said BCPSEA is committed to mediation. "[The BCTF] have made their assertions about it. But the parties are working through it. What they choose to do is what they choose to do," he said. "Our view is something always can be benefited from a conversation, from a discussion about the issues, and the mediation presents that opportunity. There's nothing to be lost by taking advantage of that opportunity."
Finlayson nonetheless concedes talks will be difficult given the lack of progress at the bargaining table. "The parties were a considerable distance apart on the core issues of compensation and there had been very little discussion on the other matters at issue," he said. "Now you walk into what arguably is a unique process and it is going to be a lot of hard work and a lot of soul searching by the parties as to how they move this forward."
The mediation period runs to June 30. If there's no agreement by that date, Jago will issue a report with non-binding recommendations.
BCTF president Susan Lambert could not be reached by the Courier's print deadline. Check online at vancourier.com for updates.