[UPDATED] Premier Christy Clark announced proposed changes to teacher bargaining today that she hopes will result in a 10-year contract with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and labour peace in public schools.
They include returning to teachers the full right to strike and tying salary increases to those negotiated by a handful of public sector employees, including nurses, college faculty and core government employees. She is also recommending changes to “de-clutter” the bargaining table by shifting some controversial issues such as class size and composition to a council representing teachers, school boards and government.
Clark said it’s time for a culture change.
“No matter where I travel in the province I hear from parents who want an education system that puts students first – one where classroom learning isn’t put on hold because (of) the animosity and the acrimony that sometimes spills over from the bargaining table into classrooms,” she told a news conference today in Surrey.
“So the question is can we, working alongside teachers, come up with an agreement that will ensure that students who are in Grade 2 today can have an entire school career that is free of labour disruptions?”
Entitled Working Together for Students: A Framework for Long Term Stability in Education, the plan would restore the full right to strike more than a decade after the Liberal government made education an essential service and link salary increases for teachers to those negotiated by a handful of public sector employees, including nurses, college faculty and core government employees.
It points out that, over the past 10 years, this group of public sector workers has received average annual increases of two per cent. Over the same time period, it says, teachers have seen average increases of 1.8 per cent per year.
The proposal lays out a variety of other measures as well, including a new priority education investment fund of $100 million over three years that could be used to address issues such as class size and composition. The plan also calls for the formation of a new education policy council -- consisting of trustees, government and union members– to direct the education investment fund and provide government with recommendations education policy.
The idea of the council is to remove education funding and other thorny issues from the bargaining process, while still giving teachers a voice in how such policies are shaped.
Clark first announced her intention to seek a 10-year deal with the province’s teachers last October, at the time asking newly named Education Minister Don McRae to consult with all major players in the education world and then work towards a framework.
If the BCTF were to agree with Thursday’s proposed framework, the parameters would apply to a new round of talks set to take place between March 1 and April 1.
From that point on, the framework sets out very specific deadlines to ensure the talks progress swiftly over the summer.
If the two sides have not reached an agreement by June 15, the Minister of Labour will appoint a mediator. That mediator will issue a public report if a deal is not in place by June 30, including an assessment of what he or she thinks each side’s proposal will cost.
By July 15, if a deal has still not been reached, the mediator will issue recommendations for a settlement, which the parties have until July 25 to accept or reject.
If the parties cannot agree on a deal, the BCTF must issue strike notice by August 31, or else the mediator's recommendations – or the government’s counter offer to the mediator – will become the new collective agreement.
Schools will not open in September if strike notice has been issued, unless the BCTF expressly agrees not to disrupt any school activities.
That provision effectively removes the piecemeal labour action seen recently in the province’s schools, and forces the issue into either a negotiated resolution or a full-scale walkout.
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