The British Columbia government has introduced legislation that would suspend any strike action by teachers and set a “cooling off” period while a mediator is appointed to facilitate negotiations.
The legislation was announced the same day as the B.C. Labour Relations Board (LRB) granted teachers the right to conduct a three-day general 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.
With the introduction of Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, any plans for a strike could be thwarted.
"Using legislation to resolve stalled negotiations is never the preferred option, but we need to end the disruptive strike that's creating a strain in our schools and classrooms," Education Minister George Abbott said on Feb. 28.
The Act would extend the teachers' current contract and appoint a mediator to help the two parties reach a negotiated settlement. If an agreement can’t be made, the mediator will report out by June 30 with non-binding recommendations.
B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) president Susan Lambert accused the government of using the legislation as an election tactic.
“This legislation is the height of political hypocrisy. It will erode the quality of education. This is all about politics, and not about education,” Lambert said. "This legislates us into a mediation process with a pre-determined outcome.”
The BCTF previously announced it was planning to hold a strike vote on Feb. 28 and 29, with results expected March 1. However, Bill 22 could halt any plans for a strike if it is passed before next week.
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.
B.C. teachers last walked off the job in October 2005, when a 10-day illegal strike was staged in response to government imposing a new contract. When teachers were ordered back to work, they refused and the B.C. Supreme Court fined the union $500,000 for contempt of court.
Should the province’s 41,000 teachers strike illegally this year, the Education Improvement Act contains details for fines for each day of strike action.
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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