For teachers, not much to celebrate

Contract talks are currently stalled between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government

Teachers in B.C. had little to celebrate on World Teachers’ Day this year.

Wednesday marked World Teachers’ Day, created by the United Nations to celebrate the role teachers play in providing quality education at all levels.

But contract talks are currently stalled between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government. Teachers again face the possibility of being legislated back to work, as they were in 2002, when the province imposed a three-year contract, and in 2005.

“The government has legislated us back in the past and they could go down that route, I wouldn’t put it past them,” said George Serra, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association.

Serra was in Vancouver during World Teachers’ Day to at the BCTF building to speak about the issue of class size composition.

But other issues arose.

“Unless the government turns around and actually brings some money to the bargaining table as opposed to coming completely empty handed and just looking at our proposals and saying they don’t have the funding to support it, we’re never going to move forward.”

That’s what’s happening now, Serra added. “We’re not getting any proposals back. The government is giving teachers nothing to bargain with. Either we’ll be legislated back to work or there could be a Phase 1 job action for the entire school year. You never know.”

B.C. Education Minister George Abbott said recently that he was unhappy with the BCTF’s decision to pull back from contract talks and that the government is trying hard to resolve the issue.

“We continue to honour the consultation process. [On Oct. 4] our team submitted to the BCTF a revised proposal that includes $165 million in funding over a three-year period and $75 million each subsequent year to help teachers in classrooms with challenging class-composition issues,” Abbott said.

“I want to stress how important it is that consultations continue. We have put forth a constructive proposal that I hope will result in thoughtful discussion and ultimately a negotiated resolution. However, this can only happen if both parties continue to work together.

“Our principle concern is ensuring that school districts have the flexibility to efficiently direct resources to address crucial issues of classroom composition.”

Bargaining objectives for teachers around B.C. include defending public education from funding cuts, improving classroom sizes and receiving salaries on par with the rest of Canadian teachers.

According to Serra, the main concern of Maple Ridge teachers is improving their benefits package.

“Maple Ridge is woefully behind in our teacher benefits. Since we’ve gone to provincial bargaining, there haven’t been any improvements made on teachers’ benefits,” he said.

“There’s also the salary issue. We’re not going to be apologetic about it. Teachers’ salaries across Canada are starting to become quite a bit above ours. It’s sort of a slap in the face because we do the same work as they do, yet B.C. students do very well academically and that’s a result of teaching. But we’re not compensated the same way the teachers across the country are.”

He added the longer the contract negotiations take, the more the students continue to be affected. Teachers are refusing to do report cards, hold staff meetings, hold detentions, take part in extracurricular activities and hold standardized tests.

“The best possible outcome would be for the government to acknowledge that continually cutting education budgets does not serve the students of this province, period,” Serra said. “It’s about the funding. The government needs to figure out where their priorities are and education should be one of them.”