An announcement made by Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Don McRae in Surrey Thursday outlining her government's plan to bring labour peace between the province and its teachers was met with criticism by the BC Teachers' Federation.
The announcement would see teachers enter into 10-year labour agreements with the province, meaning contract negotiations would not take place every couple of years, lessening the chance of disputes like last year's job action.
"The goal of a 10-year agreement is simple and ambitious - give Grade 2
students a chance to go their entire school career without a disruption,"
said Clark in a statement. "This isn't about the adults - it's about what's best for students."
That agreement would include teachers being offered "salary certainty and fairness by indexing public school teacher salaries to increases in the B.C. public sector, a formal role in education policy decisions," and "a voice in allocating a $100-million Priority Education Investment Fund."
McRae added, "With a 10-year agreement, we can move past the strife and disruption of the past and focus on what matters most - working together for students and families across British Columbia."
However, it seemed the teachers were having none of it.
Just hours after Clark's announcement, the BCTF issued its response to said plan, saying the proposal ignores court rulings, contradicts the government's own legislation and threatens the negotiations expected to begin later this year.
"The premier's plan is flawed in a number of significant ways," said BCTF President Susan Lambert in a statement. "The key problem is that it ignores the ruling of the BC Supreme Court that teachers have the right to bargain working conditions, such as class size and class composition. The Liberals' own Bill 22 also allows for these issues to be negotiated in this round but her new plan requires teachers to give up this hard-won right."
Surrey teachers' association president Jennifer Wadge shared the BCTF's views.
"We have fought for 10 years in the courts against Christy Clark's original legislation and here she is again ignoring the court's ruling," said Wadge. "We have every intention of bargaining class size and composition in the upcoming bargaining rounds. We're not in agreement that that's not something that would be bargained, especially in Surrey where we know we have more than 300 teachers that are no longer in classrooms because of that legislation."
According to Wadge, those teachers include specialists such as councillors, special-ed teachers and ESL assistants.
Additionally, Lambert claimed the government's proposal to index teachers' salaries to the average increases of other government employees is "fundamentally unfair, because it effectively prohibits teachers from negotiation for their own salaries."
"Under such a scheme government has all the cards. The average of net zero is zero," said Lambert. "B.C. teachers' salaries are lagging far behind those of other teachers in Canada, and the gap will only widen under this plan."
The Ministry of Education responded by saying the confusion around the plan simply reinforces the importance of sitting down to negotiate. Contract negotiations are expected to begin sometime this spring between the two parties.