Victoria preparing to legislate end to teachers’ job action

Teachers will, "in all likelihood," receive a government imposed end to contract negotiations, according to Education Minister George Abbott

Teachers will, “in all likelihood,” receive a government imposed end to contract negotiations, according to Education Minister George Abbott.

“We are in the position in which we have been in far too many times over the last 30 years and that is, we are not going to see this, in all likelihood, resolved through collective bargaining processes and we will, in all likelihood, have to step in as a government and attain a legislated solution,” Abbott said Thursday, adding that teacher job action, which has been going on since September, is affecting students.

“I am not prepared to let this go on any further.”

According to Abbott, his staff will start drafting legislation over the weekend with a goal of sending a recommendation to government next week.

His announcement was made directly after fact-finder Trevor Hughes released his report saying a negotiated settlement between the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) is “very unlikely.”

Hughes is Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid’s assistant deputy minister, and he was appointed by her after Abbott requested a fact-finder a couple of weeks ago.

According to Comox District Teachers’ Association (CDTA) president Steve Stanley, teachers have some “skepticism” about the fairness of a “government insider reporting back on what the government is doing.” But, Stanley acknowledged that the report appears “thorough” and “detailed.”

According to Stanley, the BCTF requested an independent mediator from the Labour Relations Board late last week to help move negotiations along.

However, he said BCPSEA has to agree to a mediator as well, which has not happened yet.

Stanley said if teachers are legislated back to work with no agreement reached, the distance between the two parties will widen.

“If the government legislates something, that’s more likely to push things further apart,” said Stanley, adding that he is concerned some teachers could become more frustrated or angry, or could change their attitudes towards work.

“It would significantly impact the teaching profession and our relationship with our principals and with our colleagues.”

Teachers are planning a Day of Action for Monday, which for the Comox Valley, will include a bell-to-bell day, union meetings at lunch, and a larger union meeting for all School District 71 teachers after work.

He also said there could be some sort of “respectful” rally outside one of the schools or the Board of Education office after classes are over, but he is unsure at this point.

However, he said the Day of Action is mainly for teachers to discuss the fact-finder’s report, the possibility of being legislated back to work — and how they plan to respond.

“There’s a lot going on that we need to talk about so it’s basically just an informational session, and trying to get a feel for how our members, how willing they are to increase job action, or do they want to keep it the same way, or how will we respond,” explained Stanley.

Teacher contract negotiations have been going on for about a year, with 78 sessions so far.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com