Teachers don't have to coach extracurricular sports, attend graduation or award ceremonies, but they do have to participate in duties such as parent-teacher meetings and district committees, according to a Labour Relations Board ruling issued Friday, which comes weeks before the end of the school year.
The B.C. Public School Employers' Association (BCPSEA) asked the LRB to determine if teachers withdrawing from extracurricular activities constituted an illegal strike.
Teachers voted mid-April in favour of a B.C. Teachers' Federation "action plan" to protest Bill 22-a complex and controversial legislation dealing with the teachers' job action and collective bargaining on class size and composition.
The action plan included teachers withdrawing from extracurricular activities. The employers' association filed an application with the LRB on May 9 challenging that move.
Friday's ruling by LRB vice chair Ritu Mahil states the BCTF hasn't authorized an unlawful strike by directing its members not to participate in activities that occur outside of class time/ instructional hours and are truly voluntary and extracurricular.
"These include coaching, instructing or supervising student performances, sports teams, clubs or field trips, or attending graduation or awards ceremonies, where those activities are not related to a course or undertaken for marks," according to Mahil, who also found the union didn't authorize an unlawful strike by directing members to minimally participate in meetings with administrators.
But Mahil ruled the union did authorize an unlawful strike by directing members to withdraw from activities that occur outside instructional hours, but may be part of work duties such as school-based team meetings, individual education program meetings, parentteacher interviews, district committee meetings and Ministry of Education initiatives, including Ready Set Go and kindergarten orientation.
"The union is directed to cease and desist from declaring or authorizing an unlawful strike in this manner," Mahil concluded.
Both the BCTF and the BCPSEA claim victory.
BCTF president Susan Lambert said she was satisfied with the decision.
"Overall, the ruling is a good legal victory for us. I have mixed feelings about it-it's comfort but it's kind of cold comfort because why were we there in the first place and have any of the issues that took us there been resolved?" she said. "So why are teachers withdrawing from extracurricular? That's the question we have to answer and the answer is because we have a desperately under-funded system that's facing even further under funding next year to the tune of least $100 million and 150 to 180 teachers lost."
Melanie Joy, chair of BCPSEA, said the association is also "pleased" with the ruling. "The Labour Relations Board has found in favour of our application. It declared the BCTF was engaged in an illegal strike by directing its members to withdraw from those activities-the committee meetings, school-based team meetings-these types of meetings that are usually performed after the bell. With that decision, the Labour Relations Board has provided clarification and it is extremely helpful. Yes, we're at the end of the school year, but this ruling we now have can be used in the future as well, so it's really important to have."
The dispute isn't over yet. Mediation is ongoing. If there's no agreement by June 30, the mediator will produce a report with nonbinding recommendations. The BCTF also took the government to court over the appointment of the mediator. A decision hasn't come down yet.