After the tumult of the past school year, everyone involved might feel cautiously optimistic about a new framework to negotiate a contract for teachers.
Calling it “a significant step in the right direction” and “a productive move,” BC Teachers’ Federation president Susan Lambert sounded uncharacteristically buoyant.
The deal is designed to help the BCTF and BC Public School Employers’ Association bargain a deal. It sounds promising, but this is a toxic relationship and B.C. is only several months from a provincial election.
Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Don McRae nipped in just before the framework was approved with a mammoth set of proposals.
Using telltale phrases such as “legacy of failed bargaining” and referring to mistrust on both sides, the document indicates the government would like to erase a system that Clark ushered in when she was education minister.
She and McRae would remove a stipulation that teaching is an essential service, a huge concession. They would reintroduce a measure of local bargaining, although that showed up in the new framework deal.
Clark and McRae would also index public school teacher salaries to increases in the B.C. public sector, likely a non-starter for the BCTF. And it would be a 10-year agreement.
The Liberals might not be the governing party after May’s election, so you can’t blame the BCTF for not rushing into a 10-year deal.
Is the government playing politics with its timing? Absolutely.
So is Lambert when she rejects out of hand some intriguing proposals that might lead to lasting labour peace. The ultra-political BCTF wouldn't want to give the Liberals any credit.
The sweeping and thought-provoking proposals from Clark and McRae might be utterly forgotten by the start of the school year.
The best framework in the world won’t provide labour peace, though, if mistrust continues and either side insists on we-win-you-lose bargaining.