Teachers start a three-day strike Monday after voting 87 per cent in favour of escalating their job action.
The vote was in response to provincial government legislation introduced Tuesday to deal with the ongoing labour dispute. The complex legislation known as Bill 22—the Education Improvement Act—addresses the teachers’ job action and deals with collective bargaining on class size and composition.
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation strike vote on Feb. 28 and 29 saw 27,946 of 32,209 who cast ballots vote yes. About 75 per cent of teachers voted.
“[The strike is] needed to send a clear message that Bill 22 is not acceptable and that we want to see a negotiated settlement,” Debbie Pawluk, Vancouver Secondary Teachers’ Association president, said Thursday.
The Labour Relations Board approved the BCTF’s strike request under limited conditions. Pickets aren’t allowed according to Tuesday’s ruling. After the initial three-day withdrawal of services, teachers can withdraw services for one day a week. Vancouver school district’s two-week spring break starts March 12.
Bill 22 calls for a six-month cooling off period on job action and a mediator to negotiate under the government’s net-zero mandate where raises can only be achieved through tradeoffs within the contract. It prohibits job action during the cooling off period with stiff fines slapped on teachers for an illegal walkout. The mediation period runs to June 30. If there’s no agreement by that date, the mediator will issue a report with non-binding recommendations.
Education Minister George Abbott told reporters Thursday morning the government doesn’t plan to rush through passage of the legislation.
Earlier in the week, when the legislation was introduced, Abbott said: “I am reaching the conclusion I am based on my concern that some vulnerable kids in the province are not getting the education they need, they’re not enjoying the successes they deserve as a consequence of phase one job action. So I’m not prepared to have that go on.”
Chris Harris, president of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association, maintains the government isn’t interested in a negotiated settlement.
“We tried in good faith to negotiate a deal, but clearly that’s not what [the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association] and the government has done through this,” Harris said, calling the legislation “reprehensible.”
Teachers will earn $50 a day in strike pay, while the government stands to save money during the strike. Teachers’ salaries province-wide total roughly $13 million a day, according to Harris.
Harris said he sympathized with parents struggling to find childcare next week, but said teachers are taking a long-term view of the situation.
“The [difficulty] in trying to find childcare for a few days next week is nothing compared to the experiences of children in oversized classrooms over the last 10 years,” he said.
Pawluk agreed. “We’re advocating for ourselves, but more importantly it’s the learning conditions of our children that were concerned about,” she said.
The Vancouver School Board is advising parents to make alternate childcare arrangements during the strike, although schools will be open with administrators on hand. Students who show up won’t be turned away.
“We recognize obviously it’s a real challenge for a lot of parents but it’s just the reality we’re dealing with considering we will not have enough staff at the school, if the teachers are not there, to provide adequate supervision for all our students,” VSB spokesperson Kurt Heinrich said. “We won’t be turning children away. Our big priority is always safety and security of our students, but we won’t have the resources should the teachers strike to properly supervise all of our students.”