By Don McRae
This government has announced a proposed new framework to bring about 10 years of labour peace with B.C. teachers. We have a great education system in this province, but wherever I travel in B.C. people tell me that it is time we put students first.
The last round of labour negotiations was difficult and prolonged, and as usual students and classrooms were disrupted across our system. This is nothing new in the history of our negotiations. I believe our children deserve better than this. It is time to set this behind us and embark on a more collaborative way of doing things.
We are proposing a new framework with bold, new ideas designed to give us a fresh start.
It includes a new structured and transparent bargaining process that would draw on professional mediators and conciliators to help resolve impasses. We would seek a relationship with teachers built on transparency, collaboration and openness to new ideas.
The proposed framework also includes an Education Policy Council with representatives from government, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and school-board trustees to advise government on public education policy priorities, including a proposed new $100-million Priority Education Investment Fund.
We are also prepared to index teachers’ compensation on par to their fellow B.C. public-sector colleagues, like nurses, college faculty and government employees. Had we used this model over the past 10 years, teachers’ salaries would have increased by an average of 2.0 percent, as opposed to the 1.8 percent average teachers have received. In other words, teachers would be farther ahead today than they were in the last system, without all the heartache that’s gone on with all the labour disruptions that we’ve seen in the last decade.
Our proposed framework is the start of a conversation and represents our commitment to long-term stability and a more effective relationship between teachers and government. With a signed ten-year agreement, the government will offer B.C. public school teachers a voice in funding education priorities and an official role in education policy decisions.
We are standing on the threshold of a wonderful opportunity for the future of education and we can’t afford to let it pass us by. Teachers and government can use this opportunity to reflect the ideals of cooperation, acceptance and respect for our children. It can be a new relationship that we can all be proud of.
Just imagine what this framework would mean for students and families. Imagine an education system where it is normal for a student in Grade 2 today to graduate in 10 years without his or her classroom ever being disrupted by job action. Imagine what this would mean to teachers—to be able to focus on their students in a stable learning environment, and at the same time, have a real voice in their relationship with government.
B.C. families deserve an education system without interruptions caused by labour disputes. On behalf of all British Columbians, I believe teachers and government can work together from our shared passion for youth and education and choose to do things in a new way. Together, we can imagine a decade of labour peace—and then achieve it.