Local teachers to take job action as school starts

No report cards, playground supervision until contract dispute settled

BCTF president Susan Lambert and education minister George Abbott have a rocky year ahead.

BCTF president Susan Lambert and education minister George Abbott have a rocky year ahead.

Public school teachers in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will be returning to school without a new contract next week, and on Wednesday confirmed they will be taking part in province-wide job action.

The B.C. Teachers Federation announced this week it will be taking strike action as of Tuesday morning, the first day of school for the 2011/12 school year. Phase 1 of the strike will involve work-to-rule job action, with teachers refusing administrative duties, supervising playgrounds and writing report cards.

“Teachers’ attention will be totally focused on the students in their classrooms, and not on the many bureaucratic and administrative tasks that take away from the joy of teaching and learning,” said BCTF president Susan Lambert, adding that teachers will be in close communication with parents if the need arises.

The provincial collective agreement expired June 30.

In 2005, teachers across the province took part in a two-week illegal strike after the provincial government imposed an extension of the previous contract to 2006. Teachers eventually signed a five-year contract that year with a 16 per cent increase in wage and benefits, as well as a $4,000 signing bonus.

Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra said teachers’ contract concerns this time around are about getting back class size and composition language, more local bargaining, and improved salary and benefits.

“Despite getting a slight salary increase [in the previous teachers’ contract] we are still behind most other provinces despite our high cost of living,” Serra said.

“And don’t we keep hearing from the Liberals that they have turned this province around and can now compete with others?”

An April 2011 B.C. Supreme Court decision ruled that provincial laws stripping class-size and composition clauses were unconstitutional. The BCTF alleges that by removing class-size limits and guarantees of services to students with special needs, the government was able to cut an annual equivalent of $336 million in education funding.

Since negotiations began in March, the province has remained firm on it’s zero-net mandate of freezing public sector wages due a decrease in revenue resulting from the global economic downturn.

“There has not been much progress at the table to date,” said Education Minister George Abbott in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. “There is not a lot of room for optimism.”

The defeat of the HST only makes it harder to offer teachers any increases, he added.

“It [the HST defeat] adds an additional dimension into what is a challenging situation,” he said.

However, with the cost of living increasing every year, the province’s zero-net policy amounts to a wage reduction, Lambert contends.

“Government continues to come empty-handed to the table, persisting with their sub-zero mandate,” she said. “If the Premier is serious about her ‘Families First’ agenda, she cannot say there is no money for public education. It’s the single most important service to the health and well-being of the province’s children.”