B.C. teachers take bargaining case to top court

Government violated constitutional rights, teachers' federation says
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 09/10/2013

Teachers in B.C. are at the province’s top court this week, fighting to get back both their constitutional and collective bargaining rights.

As part of an ongoing struggle at the B.C. Supreme Court, the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) presented its case on Sept. 9, arguing the provincial government did not respect or uphold a previous decision reversing a policy that quashed their bargaining rights.

Back in 2011, the Supreme Court ruled the government acted unconstitutionally when it passed legislation in 2002 eliminating the provisions of the teachers’ collective agreement concerning class size, composition and the teacher-student ratio.

Last year, the government passed the Education Improvement Act, or Bill 22 — which suspended teachers’ strike action and established what the province called a “cooling off period” so that a mediator could be appointed during negotiations. The BCTF denounced the legislation as an attack on their bargaining rights.

“B.C. teachers are back in court looking for a remedy to the case we won more than two years ago,” said Jim Iker, president of the teachers’ federation. “The court has already ruled that the B.C. government violated teachers’ constitutional rights when it stripped our collective agreement and prevented us from bargaining class size, class composition, and staffing levels for specialist teachers. The BCTF is now seeking a remedy for our 2011 victory and will also argue that the government’s 2012 legislation, Bill 22, was unconstitutional.”

Iker said the union wants a restoration of those collective agreement provisions as well as a declaration acknowledging that the government failed to address the 2011 court decision. They are also seeking damages for losses.

When Bill 22 was passed in the spring of 2012, then-education minister George Abbott said it would mend the relationship between both parties.

“It is simply inaccurate for the BCTF to claim that Bill 22 eliminates job security rights, professional autonomy rights and rights to due process. In fact, the bill makes no changes to any of these matters. What it does do is simply get the parties back to the table with a mediator to deal with the issues at hand in a constructive and thoughtful way,” he explained. “I hope the teachers' union will drop the rhetoric and help us move forward. I'm hoping that cooler heads will prevail and that people will engage in the very meaningful mediation process that has been set out in this bill.”

The teachers’ contract expired in June, and negotiations are slated for October.

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