Despite court rulings that have found the B.C. government’s legislative attacks against teachers and classroom conditions to be not only ill-advised but also unconstitutional, the lead negotiator for the B.C. government in the current round of bargaining seems bent on disabling labour relations in B.C.’s public school system. Peter Cameron of the B.C. Public Schools Employers' Association has announced a 10-percent cut in teacher pay as part of a pressure tactic designed to force the teachers to respond to the latest contract proposal put forward by employers.
What Cameron and the entire B.C. Liberal cabinet refuse to acknowledge, however, is that on two critical issues in the current round of teacher negotiations—class size and composition—the B.C. Supreme Court has said the government’s position is indefensible. And rather than concede that the court’s decision should form the basis of a new collective agreement with teachers, the provincial cabinet, the premier, and their lead negotiator are trying desperately to frame the BCTF as intransigent.
The truth, however, is that the B.C. government’s ham-fisted approach to teacher bargaining is the real culprit. Starting with its infamous contract ripping legislation in 2002, the B.C. government has been in attack mode against teachers. A decade later and several defeats in the courts have not penetrated the war room mentality that characterizes the B.C. government’s approach to bargaining with teachers. Unfortunately, school kids and classroom conditions have suffered because the B.C. Liberals aren’t prepared to invest in improvements to those conditions.
The same tight-fisted fiscal approach is evident in other parts of the provincial public sector. From health care and social services to direct government services, the government’s austerity drive is squeezing the very services that B.C. needs to prosper and grow. We see it in postsecondary education as well; chronic under-funding of our institutions is reducing access and making affordability just that much harder for our students.
Like every union in B.C. we are standing with teachers. The B.C. government has to recognize that picking a fight with teachers is no way to find a fair settlement in 2014. The sooner Cameron and Co. figure out that teachers are not alone in these negotiations, the sooner teachers and their students can get back to class.