British Columbia’s 41,000 teachers will strike on March 5, B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) president Susan Lambert says.
The three-day general strike is in response to a government bill introduced on Feb. 28 to end the year-long contract dispute between teachers and the province.
The government is hoping for the expedited passage of Bill 22, which would suspend job action by teachers for a six-month cooling-off period while a mediator is appointed to facilitate negotiations. If an agreement can’t be made in that time, the mediator will report out by June 30 with non-binding recommendations.
Premier Christy Clark is urging teachers not to walk out.
"This legislation is going to come into force at some point," Clark said. "They have the democratic right to do this, but boy, I'll tell you, it's not going to change the outcome, except that it's going to make life really difficult for a lot of families."
Lambert was angered by Clark's comments.
"My response to Christy Clark, who brought in the legislation in 2002 that stripped teachers of their collective agreements and allowed this government to rob $3.5 billion from education, is she needs to rethink her priorities and think of her children-first and families-first agenda," Lambert said.
The BCTF voted this week to escalate their job action to a walkout. With a 75 per cent voter turnout, the teachers voted 87 per cent in favour of a walkout.
Earlier this week, the B.C. Labour Relations Board (LRB) granted teachers the right to conduct the strike, provided two days’ notice was given. Teachers could then strike one day per week, the board ruled.
Designated as an essential service, B.C. teachers must ask for permission from the LRB to withdraw any services.
The main issue in the dispute is a $2-billion divide between the government and the union on compensation. The government is insisting on sticking to a “net-zero” mandate, meaning that a salary increase could only happen if there were savings found in other areas of the education system.
The teachers’ union is asking for a 15 per cent pay hike over three years.
The BCTF has been without a contract since June 30, 2011. The teachers began refusing to supervise playgrounds, meet with administrators or prepare report cards in September in an effort to put pressure on negotiations.
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