B.C. government launches effort to fix bargaining process with teachers
PremierChristy Clark has launched a review of how the province’s bargaining process with B.C. teachers works, saying she hopes the two parties will eventually sign a ten-year contract.
As part of the review, the provincial Ministry of Education will consult with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and other key education stakeholders, Clark announced today (October 17).
The consultations are expected to conclude by late November with the results of the review guiding any government decisions to change policy or legislation.
Clark said a history of labour conflict has soured the relationship between the province and the BCTF, the union that represents public school teachers.
The premier said the labour disruptions are tough on students, families, and teachers.
“I think we need to figure out how we can change the bargaining process, make it work, and then conclude, I hope, what could be a ten-year deal with teachers,” she told reporters during a news conference.
“Imagine: A child in Grade 2, starting this year, could go all the way to Grade 12 without any threat of labour disruption,” Clark said, adding: “Can this be done? I think it’s worth trying to do.”
A protracted labour conflict between the BCTF and the province ended with an agreement earlier this year after the government passed Bill 22. The legislation ordered striking teachers back to work and imposed a mediator in the contract dispute.
Education Minister Don McRae said the review announced today will be focused on “how the parties bargain and not what they bargain”.
“I know that teachers are the heart of our education system and anything we can do to create longer-term labour peace will benefit students and schools,” McRae told reporters.
BCTF president Susan Lambert welcomed the review but questioned whether the province has set aside enough time to fully examine the complex issue of bargaining.
“I hope that what we’ve got here is a sincere invitation to have a considered discussion about how to fix the problems with bargaining structure,” Lambert told reporters during a separate news conference.
“If that’s what we’ve got, the BCTF will be there and we’ll be contributing as positively as we can,” she said.
Lambert criticized the premier’s comments about reaching a ten-year deal with teachers. She accused Clark of confusing the structure of the bargaining process with the content of negotiations.
“It seems to me that talk of a ten-year contract is putting the cart before the horse. There seems to be conclusions drawn that would be properly a product of the bargaining table and not a product of a discussion on the bargaining structure,” Lambert said.
The BCTF president said the bargaining process could be improved by allowing for more issues to be negotiated at the local level.
“Big ticket items like salaries would stay at the provincial table, but we’ve been trying to move more items to the local table where they can be more effectively bargained,” she said.
The current contract between the province and the BCTF, which represents 41,000 teachers, expires in June 2013. The next round of bargaining is expected to start in the spring.