Bargaining still stagnant for B.C. teachers

The BCTF recently presented a new proposal that would see a 15 per cent wage hike over three years but was dismissed.

The British Columbia Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) recently presented a new proposal for a 15 per cent wage hike over three years but was dismissed by Education Minister George Abbott.

“Nothing I’ve seen today makes me feel more optimistic about the possibility for a successful conclusion,” stated Abbott in a teleconference with reporters.

The proposal includes a three per cent wage boost each year in a three-year deal to cover cost-of-living increases and a three per cent market adjustment in the second and third years to bring B.C. teaching salaries on par with those offered in Alberta and Ontario.

Removed from the current proposal are two key components the BCTF were originally bargaining for: an early retirement incentive plan and a full-time guaranteed minimum wage for on-call teachers.

Norm Sabourin, president for the Boundary District Teacher’s Association, said, “We dropped a great deal in what we’re asking for and it appears the BCPSEA (B.C. Public School Employers’ Association) and the government are still saying that it’s too much.”

Bargaining between the BCTF and BCPSEA and government began in March 2011, but there has been no sign of progress.

“We’re pretty frustrated with the lack of ability or willingness to bargain,” Sabourin added. “We’ve come down a long way so we just want to see some bargaining.

The proposal states that the first-year cost of the increased wage hike would be $300 million, with an extra $130 million in each of the next two years.

Abbott responded that wage hikes and contract enhancements violate the province’s net-zero mandate for public-sectors unions. The net-zero mandate was created during the 2008 recession and places a wage freeze on unions.

Teachers argue the net-zero mandate is equivalent to a pay cut, since inflation is around three per cent.

The recently changed proposal was developed without the BCTF being asked to do so, Sabourin pointed out.

“It’s somewhat against normal BCTF practices and bargaining to come up with a new package unless the other side is working as well, and we’re the first one to do so,” he said.

Along with the proposal, BCTF has been bringing various groups from local areas to explain specifically why local bargaining is required.

Requirements vary from school to school, especially in comparison to small rural towns and bigger cities.

“We’re saying we need to discuss this clause locally,” stated Sabourin. “From what I’ve heard there’s been a very cold reception from any of the presentations.”

Regardless, during phase one of job action, there are a number of teachers who enjoy the fact that they can focus on teaching and devoting their time to students, added Sabourin.

Phase one involves teachers to not participate in administrative duties, including the report card and recess supervision.

“It would be far more harmonious to get a collective agreement. It’s difficult, but if we the teachers don’t fight for better working conditions, I don’t think anybody else will,” he said.

Sabourin stated there is a meeting next weekend for Provincial Representatives to discuss what to do next, but ultimately the decision is up to the BCPSEA and the government.

A comment from School District 51 was unavailable as of press time.