Friday, October 7, 2005
British Columbia teachers have voted 91% in favour of withdrawing services, beginning today (October 7). This is in response to Bill 12 which, if passed, imposes a contract with neither pay raises nor caps on class sizes. It has passed third reading today and is expected to receive royal assent later today. B.C. teachers have had four such imposed contracts since 1993, spanning two different provincial governments. The B.C. Legislature has been meeting around the clock to try and get the motion through.
This issue has been escalating for some time. Already, B.C. teachers are greatly underpaid (in terms of lifetime earnings), in comparison to those in other provinces, due to the B.C. government’s zero wage increase policy for all public sector employees. In addition, they feel learning conditions are sub-par, with many classes overcrowded, and insufficient resources to provide for special needs children.
Hugh Finlayson, CEO of the BC Public School Employers’ Association, representing the government, has asked the Labour Relations Board to halt the action. He has said that the walk out, which would affect 600,000 students, would break labour code, since education is, by B.C. law, an essential service.
The labour board ruled at 11:00 PM October 6, 2005 that the action is illegal. It has ordered teachers to return to normal duties and schedules. They have also been asked not to picket at or near schools. This has had no effect on the teacher’s planned action.
Being categorized as an essential service makes any striking action illegal, unless approved by the Labour Board. The intent of the teachers’ original job action was to seek this approval, but this was halted by the passing of Bill 12. The International Labour Organization, the United Nations agency involved in upholding labour standards worldwide, has even urged Gordon Campbell’s government to repeal the law making education an essential service.
The government has threatened legal action against the union, and possibly even jail for the union leader, but the teachers are arguing that this action is not a strike, merely political protest, and is therefore covered under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The situation could escalate quickly such as what occurred in the HEU strike. A general strike is not out of the question. Many unions have noted that they would stand-behined the BCTF.