B.C. teachers have accepted an agreement with the provincial government, ending nearly a year of job action and stalled negotiations.
Between June 27 and 29, 21,044 of the province’s teachers voted on the agreement, reached with the government’s bargaining agency, the B.C. Public School Employers’ Associated (BCPSEA). Seventy-five per cent voted to ratify the agreement.
Sooke School District superintendent Jim Cambridge said he will be excited to start off a new school year in September with things back to normal. He said the inclusion of the legislatively appointed mediator and a desire to end talks before more legislation likely led to the ratification.
“I’m pretty buoyed by the fact that teachers voted for it,” Cambridge said. “In the classroom it will be much more positive, it’ll be much more positive to know that teachers can just come back and do their jobs. Let the bargainers do their work through the year and they can focus on teaching and we can all get back to our business for a while.”
School district trustees voted on the agreement on Wednesday. The results of that vote were not known by the Gazette’s press deadline.
Sooke Teachers Association president Patrick Henry isn’t so thrilled with the agreement, even though he voted in favour of it.
“It’s nothing to be pleased about,” said Henry. “It’s unfortunate the government saw it necessary to introduce so much upheaval and vitriol in the process of an agreement that they could have signed off with us months ago.”
He said the looming threat of government legislation convinced teachers to get an agreement worked out and that teachers were the only public employee sector to be targeted with legislation and threats of fines.
The agreement falls short by failing to bridge the gap on classroom size, composition and student-teacher ratios, Henry added. He said the government betrayed teachers and students by taking away the teachers’ right to bargain these issues, a move deemed unconstitutional by the B.C. Supreme Court, and now being legislated back in.
“The whole process of job action has just been tumultuous. It’s been enormously stressful for teachers. It’s been very difficult,” Henry said. “There’s been a constant struggle to have ourselves heard.”
The one positive, Henry said, is the progress made on improving benefits.
The new agreement is in effect until June 30, 2013. Through the coming year bargaining will take place for the next collective agreement.
“Obviously we’re going to have to be more creative – we’re going to have to be more thoughtful in how we deal with government,” Henry said. “It’s very clear that they’ve got nothing but disdain for us and for public education.”
Less than 24 hours following the announcement of the tentative agreement, the BCTF issued notice of a civil claim in B.C. Supreme Court against the province.
The claim was the second made by the union in two weeks. It is formed on the basis that Bill 22 unconstitutionally infringed teachers’ rights to free collective bargaining and asserts that government’s directions to BCPSEA resulted in bad faith bargaining.
– with files from Natalie North