Minister mulls legislating end to teacher strike
Education Minister George Abbott is musing about legislating an end to the B.C. teachers dispute.
Teachers have stopped doing administrative work, have limited their dealings with parents and are refusing to produce report cards.
Abbott said Wednesday he's monitoring the daily impact of the job action and he doesn't like the prospect of parents not getting first-term report cards, due in mid-November.
He said he doesn't want parents feeling in the dark about their child's progress in school this year.
Legislation to end the strike "is in the range of possibilities, as it has been from the start," said Abbott.
"We're monitoring the situation everyday across the province," he said. "We'll try to make appropriate decisions as we go along, but again, it would be much better if the parties were able to reach agreement at the bargaining table."
But Abbott said with contract talks between the BC Teachers Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association apparently going nowhere, the possibility is increasing that the government may introduce strike-ending legislation.
The two sides are scheduled to return to the bargaining table Thursday and Friday.
Employers spokeswoman Melanie Joy said it's too early to talk about legislating an end to the strike because the two sides need to engage in deeper discussions at the bargaining table.
"The negotiation process needs to work through on its own," she said.
The government has said all public sector contracts, including the one with teachers, will be "net zero," meaning any pay raises or changes to working conditions must be negotiated without increasing the overall cost of the collective agreement.
BC Teachers Federation President Susan Lambert said the talks are stalled because employers refuse to compromise, but the employers say the teachers have to be more realistic at the bargaining table.
The employer has said BCTF contract demands -- which include five days of paid leave to grieve the death of a friend -- amount to $2.2 billion, and that's before a demanded wage increase is factored in.
Lambert said teachers want more say on class sizes and class composition -- negotiating rights the government stripped from teachers with legislation in 2002, but since ruled unconstitutional -- and a pay raise.
The BCTF has yet to table a wage demand, but said B.C. teacher pay rates have fallen to eighth in Canada from third during their last contract.
Abbott said the government is becoming more concerned about the strike with every passing day.
"Is it fair for parents in B.C. to go on two, three, four, five, six, seven months without knowing how their child is doing in school?" he said.
Abbott said he will be raising his concerns about the impact of current teacher strike actions with the BCTF.
Labour negotiations have traditionally been acrimonious between the federation and government, with New Democrat, Liberal and Social Credit governments resorting to legislation to end disputes.
The B.C. Liberals passed legislation shortly after their election in 2001 that made public education an essential service and limited the level of job action teachers could take.
Teachers staged a 10-day province-wide illegal walkout in 2005, and were later fined $500,000 for contempt of court.
In June 2006, teachers accepted the five-year contract that included wage and benefit increases that amounted to about 16 per cent and bonuses worth up to $4,700 each.
That contract expired on June 30.