Teacher talks begin with arbitration

The B.C. Public School Employers' Association applied to the labour board for a ruling expected by Friday, saying the B.C. Teachers' Federation continues to try to negotiate provincial issues such as class size and staffing ratios at local district bargaining tables.

Education Minister George Abbott set a friendly tone by joining union president Susan Lambert at the BCTF convention in Victoria in March. It didn't last long.

VICTORIA – A tangle of technical issues is being sorted through by the B.C. Labour Relations Board this week as public school teachers and their employers prepare for another disputed school year.

The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) applied to the labour board for a ruling expected by Friday on the scope of province-wide bargaining issues. The employer says the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has failed to present a full set of proposals at the provincial table.

“The BCTF continues to attempt to negotiate provincial matters and matters that may not be bargained at this time (including class size, class composition and staffing ratios) at local tables,” BCPSEA said in a bargaining bulletin.

In June, teachers voted 90 per cent in favour of a strike mandate. In July, BCTF negotiators tabled demands including wage parity with other provinces, doubled bereavement leave to provide 10 days paid leave on the death of a friend or relative, increased preparation time and a retirement bonus that would give departing teachers an extra five per cent payout for each year worked.

BCPSEA says the pay demand would mean a 21 per cent raise for some teachers to match Alberta rates. It calculates that the entire package of demands would cost an extra $2.2 billion.

The B.C. government has settled contracts with a majority its unionized staff this year, working within a “net zero” budget mandate. Education Minister George Abbott has repeatedly indicated that the same mandate applies to teacher talks, with any extra costs offset by savings in other contract areas.

BCTF president Susan Lambert says without a negotiated settlement by the time school begins Sept. 6, teachers will start phase one of strike action by refusing all non-essential duties.

The relationship between the two sides is reflected in an LRB arbitration handed down Aug. 5. The BCTF accepts that taking attendance is an essential service, but tried to refuse to send attendance information to the school office, even though this may involve no more effort than pushing the send button on a computer.

The LRB refused the request for a second time. The board decided that both monitoring attendance and sending in the results represent a safety issue, and ruled that teachers can’t refuse it and force a management person to collect the data.