A 10-year agreement with teachers that Liberal Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Don McRae announced Thursday morning sounded positive on the surface, with indexed compensation for teachers and talk of leaving the acrimony of the past behind to focus on what’s best for kids.
But the B.C. Teachers’ Federation says the government’s proposed plan “ignores court rulings, contradicts government’s own legislation, and risks scuttling a positive bargaining framework on the eve of its expected ratification by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association,” according to a BCTF press release.
The government’s proposal provides for a $100-million Priority Education Investment Fund available in the third year of the agreement; a formal place for teachers to have a say on education policy decision on a new Education Policy Council with representatives from government, the BCTF, and school board trustees; indexing of public school teachers’ compensation to an average of other major B.C. public sector increases;, and a new structured and transparent bargaining process.
Clark noted the $100 million would be in addition to the $60 million Learning Improvement Fund that’s meant to address class composition.
McRae said money from the fund could be directed to help mentor new teachers, aid professional development and address students’ special needs.
Teachers’ salaries and benefits would be on par with those of nurses, college faculty and government employees. The mix of wages and benefits would be determined at the bargaining table.
“Had we used this model over the past 10 years, teachers’ salaries would have increased by an average of two per cent, as opposed to the 1.8 per cent average teachers have received,” states an opinion piece attributed to McRae. “In other words, teachers would be farther ahead today than they were in the last system, without all the heartache that’s gone on with all the labour disruptions that we’ve seen in the last decade.”
The new process calls on professional mediators and conciliators to help resolve bargaining impasses.
“We don’t want have, every two years, every four years, to go repeated cycle of labour angst,” said McRae, a former teacher. “Since 1991, we’ve had eight series of this.”
The ministry sought submissions from the BCTF, B.C. School Trustees’ Association, BCPSEA, B.C. School Superintendents’ Association, B.C. Principals’ and Vice Principals’ Association and the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils in the development of the framework, starting in November.
Bargaining is to continue in March while the government hears reaction to the plan. The ministry would implement the framework following the May provincial election if all parties were agreeable.
Critics questioned the timing of the announcement in relation to the election and the fact that it came a day before the beginning of the BCTF’s Representative Assembly and the BCSPEA’s annual general meeting.
Clark said the government couldn’t start working on a new framework until after an interim agreement was reached last June. This agreement expires June 30.
“I recognize it’s a difficult challenge given the long history of acrimony that’s existed between the parties,” she said. “But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it.”
The proposed framework is meant to separate policy issues from compensation at the bargaining table to make the process go smoother. It allows teachers the right to strike.
But the BCTF says the proposed framework ignores the ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court that teachers have the right to bargain working conditions, such as class size and class composition. The BCTF said in a press release that the new plan “requires teachers to give up this hard-won right.”