The President of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation hopes the province’s intention to improve the teacher bargaining process through consultation is sincere. But she questions Premier Christy Clark’s talk of a 10-year labour deal.
“We’ve tried for two years, prior to the last round of bargaining, to initiate a conversation about changing bargaining structures,” said Susan Lambert mere hours after reportedly being informed of the government’s Wednesday afternoon announcement. “We welcome this initiative but we’re wary. We’ve been promised consultation before and ended up with punitive legislation.”
Clark and Education Minister Don McRae said the government hopes to talk to the BCTF, school trustees, administrators and parent groups now until early November to inform policy or legislative changes to be implemented before bargaining starts next spring.
Clark said she wants to bring about long-term “labour peace” through a 10-year contract and improve how government works with the BCTF.
“These goals are going to require compromise on all sides of the table, including ours,” she said, noting recent bargaining success with the BCGEU, nurses, resident doctors, and CUPE workers at one university.
“It’s worth thinking about what could be achieved, for example, with a 10-year deal for teachers,” Clark said. “Imagine a child in Grade 2 starting this year could go all the way to Grade 12 without any threat of labour disruption. Think of the impact on those kids’ education if we could get a 10-year deal with teachers. Think of the impact on families. Think of the impact on teachers in classrooms, who like labour disruptions and disputes no more than anyone else.”
Lambert, who didn’t attend the government media conference, said talk of a 10-year contract at this point is “putting the cart before the horse.”
“If they’ve already reached that conclusion, have they reached other conclusions?” she said.
McRae said the government hopes to complete the bulk of consultation by the end of November.
Lambert was concerned about the six-week timeline.
McRae, a former teacher, noted the government isn’t starting from scratch. The Ministry of Education will work with the Public Sector Employers’ Council secretariat and refers to recommendations in reports by teacher bargaining commissioner Don Wright in 2004 and mediator and arbitrator Vince Ready in 2007.
Lambert said the BCTF has been working to move more specific items to local bargaining tables for a two-tiered system where common issues such as salaries would be negotiated province-wide.
She called the recommendations included in the two reports “a mixed bag.”
Lambert didn’t want to comment on whether negotiating a 10-year contract was realistic. She said discussions should stick to bargaining structures, not content, first.
Clark said all parties must put their preconceptions aside.
“For those of you who think the weight of history cannot be overcome, I hope you will find a way to think about this differently,” she said.
But Lambert said conversation can’t occur free from the context of a decade of provincial underfunding for schools.
Lambert said the latest bargaining can begin is March 1. Teachers’ contracts expire June 30.