Thoughts on BC Teachers’ job action

For those Canadian readers of this blog, I’m sure by now you are well aware of the job action by the BC Teachers Federation, the union of which all public-school teachers in the province of B.C. are required to belong. For those unaware, forgive my lack of a preamble or backgrounder, if you will. I just wanted to share a few of my thoughts on the matter, spin and hype from both the government and the union excluded.

Say what you will about the BCTF, I do find them to be about as militant and confrontational as labour unions go in this country, and often, I believe their demands are too much. I believe that, perhaps, a 15% salary increase over three years when other unionized government employees had to endure 0% increases during the BC Liberals’ wrong-headed, abysmal first term in office is perhaps too much to ask. However, to require the teachers to essentially continue for another two years (retroactively to June 2004 and continuing until summer of 2006) for less money by paying nothing extra (not even to cover the average cost of living increase of between 2 and 3 percent per annum) is a terrible proposition and one with which I would be personally offended.

In addition, I believe the current system of collective bargaining in the public sector is broken. When your employer is the government, and by extension, the legislators that make up the government caucus, and your employer has the power to move the goal posts in negotiations and make up (or change an existing) “rule book”, the potential for abuse is real (as we’ve seen this year). By imposing a contract, and having the ability to impose contracts, is too much power. It offers no incentive to give the government’s bargaining agent, the B.C. Public School Employers Association, real power to negotiate over things like wages, class sizes, and class composition.

It’s true the B.C. PSEA and BCTF don’t like to negotiate and would rather bat around hot-aired rhetoric. It’s also no secret they dislike each other. However, I believe that the industrial inquiry commission the government struck (arguably the only decent thing they’ve done on this front) to look into a new collective bargaining regime should look into the possibility of forcing the government to pass a law prohibiting the legislating of labour contracts and requiring them to use binding arbitration when they’re at a stalemate.

As well, some say the B.C. PSEA should be eliminated. I think they are a good organization in place that simply has no mandate, no mission. Instead, they should be strengthened and given the ability to negotiate whatever options they choose and bring them on (or take them off) the table.

Finally, I read in The Daily Courier today that one teacher thought the government should get out of the education business. I’m not sure what she meant by this. Surely she doesn’t advocate turning it over to the private sector and having publicly-traded companies contracted to run certain schools, such as they do in parts of the U.S. I don’t believe she advocates this at all – she was referring to the fact that school curriculum and Education Ministry policies change at the drop of a hat, or the appointment of a new Minister of Education. She’s right – it’s got to stop and it must change. So, why not have the government ceasing designing the curriculum? Essentially, they should be responsible for forking over the funds for the education system and printing the educational materials (but not creating them). A provincial committee, made up of rotating representation of the various school districts, should be struck and would be responsible for designing the K-12 student curriculum.

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