B.C. teachers debate all options in contract dispute

CBC News
Posted: Mar 19, 2012 8:25 AM PT
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2012 12:15 PM PT
BCTF delegates are meeting in Vancouver to determine their next steps in their contract dispute with the province.

 BCTF delegates are meeting in Vancouver to determine their next steps in their contract dispute with the province. (CBC)

 

B.C. Teachers Federation delegates are considering all possible options as they debate their next steps in their ongoing contract dispute with the province — including staging illegal strikes.

At the BCTF annual general meeting underway in Vancouver on Sunday president Susan Lambert said the delegates are debating the full range of possibilities, including doing “nothing to everything.”

Lambert refused to comment on reports one of those options was an illegal strike.

“It’s a private conversation debate that we are having in committee, which means I cannot on the nature of the recommendations, but the sentiment of the debate is outrage,” said Lambert.

But the president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association Tara Ehrcke told CBC News on Monday morning a walkout was one of the options her delegation brought to the meeting.

“We had a meeting with our membership prior to coming and got some information and got some instructions from our members, and our delegates are bringing that information to the meeting and that’s certainly one of the things that we’re considering,”

Under the back-to-work legislation passed last week by the government the BCTF and its members would face hefty fines if they did stage an illegal strike.

Bill 22 puts in place harsh financial penalties for teachers, unions and union representatives who take illegal strike action during the cooling-off period, including fines of:

  • $475 a day for teachers.
  • $2,500 a day for union representatives.
  • $1.3 million a day for the BCTF organization.

The delegates are scheduled to meet again on Monday and Tuesday to develop a final proposal to put to a vote to teachers across the province at a later date.

Some of the other actions BCTF delegates are considering include ending all voluntary extracurricular activities, which would include overseeing sports teams and graduation ceremonies.

Minister urges mediation

Meanwhile Education Minister George Abbott is instead urging the BCTF to take advantage of the mediation offered in Bill 22 instead.

Abbott says the teachers have an opportunity under Bill 22 to use mediation to explore areas that have not been dealt with until now.

He’s also defending the legislation, saying it was necessary to protect students, who he says paid a six-month price of dealing with teacher job action that deprived them of report cards.

Abbott says he’s pleased the union has recommended potential mediators, calling the move a positive step, and he’ll review the suggestions when he returns from his current trip to China.

Lambert has put forward the names of two senior judges B.C. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Kelleher and Appeal Court Justice Ian Donald as possible mediators in the dispute.

However, she says she doesn’t know who would accept the job because the mediation is constrained by the government’s insistence there is no money for wage increases.

The province’s 41,000 teachers have been without a contract since June and began job action in September, which included not filling out report cards.

Earlier this month they staged a three-day strike after the government introduced legislation to end the job action and appoint a mediator to settle the dispute or impose a contract by September. Key issues in the dispute include wages, benefits, class sizes and support for special needs students.

The government has already said any mediated settlement must abide by the province’s so-called “net zero” mandate, which stipulates that new public-sector contracts must not cost the government any additional money. That means any gains, such as increased wages, must be offset by concessions elsewhere.

With files from The Canadian Press

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