With contract negotiations at a standstill, BC teachers kicked off a new school year by serving strike notice to their provincial employer last week.
Although School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake) schools opened on Tuesday as planned, “Parents and staff are advised that teachers will only be providing services that have been designated as essential,” said Supt. Jeff Jones.
Jones said teachers were able to commence strike action involving a withdrawal of certain duties and non-participation in volunteer extracurricular activities on Saturday.
“The BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has informed us in the strike notice that Phase 1 strike activity will commence in all school districts on Sept, 6,” he said. “Teachers must continue to provide services designated as essential in the 2011 Essential Services Order. …
“The board of education wants to extend our confidence that the education of the students in our district will be impacted as little as possible. We would also like to state that we respect all of the employees in our district, the work they do on a day-to-day basis to make the education in our district exemplary, and we hope any action taken by the union will preserve the priority of student learning.
“No matter the challenges, we will continue to work hard to address them,” said Jones. “We will continue to support our students; we know our teachers are dedicated to ensuring this year will be full of exciting and productive learning opportunities for our students.”
BCTF president Susan Lambert said last week that the province’s bargaining team has not been given a mandate to invest in public education through enhanced funding to students and a fair increase in teachers’ wages and benefits.
“Despite an April 2011 Supreme Court decision that ruled BC Liberal laws stripping class size and composition clauses to be unconstitutional, the provincial government has done nothing to rectify the situation,” she said. “By removing class size limits and guarantees of services to students with special needs, the contract-stripping legislation enabled the government to cut vast sums each year from the education budget: an annual amount equivalent to $336 million in 2011 dollars.”
Job action will not affect classroom activity, she said.
“Teachers’ attention will be totally focused on the students in their classrooms, and not on the many bureaucratic and administrative tasks that take away from the joy of teaching and learning,” Lambert said, adding that teachers will be in close communication with parents if the need arises.
She said that teachers’ benefits in B.C. have not improved in 15 years and that wages have fallen behind those in other provinces. A Vancouver teacher earns about $20,000 less each year than one in Calgary and a secondary teacher in Toronto makes $15,000 more than one in Victoria.
“Government continues to come empty-handed to the table, persisting with their sub-zero mandate,” Lambert said. “Government spending decisions are a question of priorities, and we believe children should be the number one priority.”