Elementary and secondary teachers across the province will begin “teach-only” job action when school starts Tuesday.
They will continue teaching in classrooms, but they will not perform administrative tasks such as filling out forms, collecting money and attending staff meetings, explained Steve Stanley, president of the Comox District Teachers’ Association (CDTA).
“Off the bat, we don’t believe students or parents will notice much difference,” he said.
Ninety per cent of teachers voted yes in a provincewide strike vote conducted in late June after their collective agreement expired. Negotiations between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) didn’t get far, and this Wednesday, the BCTF filed strike notice to take effect Sept. 6 at 7 a.m.
Phase One of job action means that teachers will not be performing administrative tasks such as filling out forms, collecting data, meeting with principals or other administrators, supervising on playgrounds, or writing report cards, according to the BCTF.
“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,” BCTF president Susan Lambert said in a news release, adding that teachers will be in close communication with parents if the need arises.
There are no restrictions on extra-curricular activities such as volunteering to coach school teams, and teacher who want to be involved will continue to be involved, explained Stanley.
Stanley is unclear about field trips, though, noting that trips during the day are fine, but there are still forms to be filled out and funds to be collected, so it would require some creativity.
“Our job action is not designed to punish students or take things away from them,” he said. “It may just look different. There will be lots of these good things happening.”
If an agreement hasn’t been reached by November, there might not be any report cards, but teachers are obliged to communicate with parents, and parents will still be able to ask questions about their children’s progress, explained Stanley, adding there would still be a meet-the-teacher event, but it would be restricted to the regular working day.
Although negotiations began in March, to date there has been absolutely no progress in bargaining, according to the BCTF’s release.
“Government continues to come empty-handed to the table, persisting with their sub-zero mandate,” said Lambert. “Government spending decisions are a question of priorities, and we believe children should be the No. 1 priority.”
Lambert called on Education Minister George Abbott and Premier Christy Clark to send their negotiators back to the bargaining table with a new mandate to achieve a negotiated settlement that will meet the needs of students and teachers alike.
During a conference call with Vancouver Island media Tuesday afternoon, Abbott did not express any optimism about negotiations between the BCPSEA and the BCTF.
At the request of the BCTF, there was a suspension of meetings from late July to Aug. 23, but the parties have been at the table since Aug. 23, he explained.
“There has not been any appreciable progress at the table,” said Abbott. “The parties remain far apart. The BCTF has said they will withdraw their participation in administration at the schools … we don’t know exactly what impact that will have on students and parents, but we certainly are going to follow it very carefully.”
Abbott said that when the BCTF indicated it would withdraw from some administrative services, it was unclear what that would mean.
The BCPSEA had “strong concerns” about reporting student absences, but that has been resolved in a satisfactory way after going to the Labour Relations Board, he explained. The issue of report cards has not been resolved but is under discussion at the Labour Relations Board, he added.
Abbott explained that the BCPSEA’s bargaining mandate has been net-zero, consistent with other public services, and that’s been challenging in the current economic situation.
“That’s not an easy environment to conclude an agreement in,” he said. “If there’s reason for optimism, it has not been shared with me.”
“A negotiated agreement is something subject to the ability of the parties at the table to conclude an agreement,” he added. “The BCPSEA on the employer’s side has a responsibility as lead to do that. In a net-zero bargaining environment, it’s going to be challenging, without a doubt. It’s going to be up to the parties to work hard and use their imagination to try to craft a solution. I don’t think that’s going to be easy.”
Stanley says teachers are in no rush to escalate their job action to a second phase — and any escalation would not come as a surprise, as it would have to go to the Labour Relations Board and it would have to go to a provincial vote.
“We’re determined, and we’re going to be persistent, but we’re also going to be patient,” he said. “We’re in no hurry to push things forward to another phase … we know it’s going to be a long road … We believe if we’re patient and persistent, things will happen for us.”