Lake Cowichan Secondary teachers Noni Battye (l) and Craig New (r) and Lake Cowichan Teachers’ Association’ president

Lake Cowichan Secondary teachers Noni Battye (l) and Craig New (r) and Lake Cowichan Teachers’ Association’ president

Teachers wary of tentative agreement with province

On June 26, representatives from the B.C. Teachers Federation signed an agreement-in-committee with the government’s bargaining agent

On June 26, representatives from the B.C. Teachers Federation signed an agreement-in-committee with the government’s bargaining agent, Charles Jago.

According to a press release from the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) president, Susan Lambert, teachers were “compelled into the process under threat of huge fines and further punitive legislation.”

The BCTF claims that they were able to achieve modest improvements in the negotiations, but for the most part success was seen in getting the government to take its concession demands off the table.

“We’ve concluded this agreement  in order to prevent government from imposing a contract that would further erode teachers’ hard-won rights and do more harm to students’ learning conditions,” says Lambert.

The BCTF claims that the deal does not address many issues, the key of which is improvements to class size and composition as well as staffing ratios.

The Cowichan School District is most likely facing a cut to 17.2 teachers in the fall.

“We have 200 classes that don’t fit,” says Duncan Brown, a trustee on the SD79 board, “and and this will just get worse with the removal of these teachers.”

The BCTF also says that the province refuses to look at the fact that the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that Bills 27 and 28 are unconstitutional and invalid. Along with removing the rights of teachers to collective bargain for class size and composition, the legislation strips teachers’ collective agreements, and restricted their bargaining rights.

Minister of Education, George Abbott, stated that he is “pleased that mediation has resulted in a tentative memorandum of settlement between the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association and the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation,” in a press release sent out on June 26.

“The term of the agreement runs until June 30, 2013, sets out improved language to manage leave provisions and is consistent with government’s net zero mandate,” he adds.

Erica Blume, the president of the Lake Cowichan Teachers’ Association, says that it is up to teachers use their conscience to guide them when voting for or against the agreement.

“There is nothing in the deal that is so amazing or egregious that would stand out for teachers to vote for or against it.”

Teachers in Lake Cowichan were wary and disheartened, says Blume. “It seems they are unsure of the agreement. There are concerns that if we don’t take this deal now, the province will remove the language and force something in September.”

Blume says that a lot of teachers in the area thought they would be seen as selfish for voting for this deal because it does offer modest improvments to things like teachers benefits packages.

However, the biggest concern for Blume, and for the teachers in the area, was how to remedy the loss of resources with the expectation of quality education in the classrooms.

She doesn’t have much hope for the upcoming election and a change in government, either. “Whichever government is in power, it doesn’t seem that they want to negotiate with teachers. It has been better in the past, but in general government and teachers haven’t worked well together. It’s just fight, bargain, legislate.”

She doesn’t want to give up all hope though. “We’re mindful of past practice,” she says. “Do we take what we can now, and hope that a new government will bring different results?”

Voting took place between June 27 and 29, and results were announced on the evening of June 29.

On the evening of June 29, the BCTF announced that teachers had voted 75 per cent in favour of ratifying the agreement. A total of 21,044 teachers voted, a turnout rate of 52 per cent.

“I doubt you could find a single teacher in BC who is happy with this agreement because it does absolutely nothing to improve the situation in classrooms for students or teachers,” said Susan Lambert, president of the BC Teachers’ Federation. “It doesn’t address class size and composition nor does it provide a fair and reasonable salary increase for our members, who have fallen far behind teachers in other parts of Canada.”

On June 27, the BCTF filed a civil claim in the B.C. Supreme Court regarding Bill 22 in response to the lack of improvements within the new agreement to address class size and composition.

A press release from the BCTF states that in the coming months teachers will continue to hold the government accountable for providing the funding, resources, and support to meet the diverse educational needs of B.C. children.