With the election out of the way, it didn’t take long for the Liberal government and the B.C. Teacher’s Federation to renew their fight.
Premier Christy Clark proposed a new 10-year contract be negotiated for teachers, as a way to end labour disruption in the school system. When it was first proposed, it was dismissed as a mere campaign platform, and with Clark and her Liberals trailing badly in the polls at the time, it was generally dismissed.
Now it’s on the table as the government’s position, and the teachers union doesn’t like the unprecedented term.
“Ask Luongo how he likes it,” said Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra.
He was referring to Vancouver Canucks backup goaltender Roberto Luongo’s 12-year contract. Luongo famously said, “My contract sucks,” when the nine years remaining proved to be a barrier to a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he could again be a full-time starting goaltender.
“The point is that things change. Ten years is a long time,” said Serra. “Too much changes over that time.”
Serra said he is not aware of any other teachers’ union with a 10-year deal.
The BCTF website listed its position on the 10-year plan Tuesday.
“It ignores court rulings, contradicts government’s own legislation, and puts at risk the current round of provincial bargaining,” says the union’s position statement.
“On the surface, the premier’s rhetoric sounds conciliatory after more than a decade of conflict between the BCTF and the B.C. Liberals, but in reality the premier’s plan is another effort to severely limit teachers’ constitutional right to bargain and to intrude into the bargaining process yet again.”
The plan would index teacher salaries to average increases negotiated by other government employees, rather than allowing them to negotiate their own salaries, says the union.
Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton, himself an educator, supports a 10-year term.
“I think it’s a good approach, and where there’s a will, there’s a way,” said Dalton. “Students will benefit, teachers will benefit, and families will benefit from a long-term deal.”
He said it would create a healthier environment in the education system, without the stress of contract disputes. Extra-curricular activities, from sports teams, school clubs and graduation ceremonies have been effected. Some activities have never been restarted.
“And those things are really important for the connection between teachers and students,” he said.
Dalton said parents are fed up and losing faith in the public system. He is the parliamentary secretary for independent schools, and notes that last year there were about 6,000 fewer students in public schools across B.C. Half of that reduction was caused by demographics. The other half was the result of parents sending their children to private schools.
“When teachers stop giving out report cards, parents get very frustrated with that,” said Dalton.
He believes in public education, but calls the BCTF militant and says it has been unreasonable in its demands, regardless which party forms government. Every contract year, BCTF members are “dropping the tools.”
But the BCTF says it is negotiating constructively, and that Clark’s 10-year position threatens to derail the process.
“We’re well into bargaining with BCPSEA along with the assistance of facilitator Mark Brown. Both parties have tabled their full packages and both sides are intent on reaching a negotiated agreement before June 30, 2013. Throughout this process, government representatives have been at the table and have never brought forward the premier’s 10-year scheme,” says the union statement.
“Teachers, more than anyone, would welcome stability in the education sector. But disrupting negotiations at this point is contrary to the premier’s stated goal of labour peace. For government to unilaterally suspend talks is the ultimate intrusion and could scuttle productive negotiations and prolong bargaining beyond June 30.”