Teachers planned walkouts and the government announced lockouts this week as both sides applied pressure to try to force a deal.
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) announced Tuesday that teachers across the province will start a series of rotating strikes next week aimed at shutting down school districts and putting pressure on the province.
Locally School District No. 46 (SD46) will be closed on Thursday, May 29, while teachers take to the picket lines.
The government responded through the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) with a letter threatening a hold-back of 10 per cent of teachers’ wages if they walk out and forced lockouts later in June.
The lockouts would see secondary school teachers unable to enter schools on June 25 and 26 and a full lockout of all schools on June 27.
In addition, the letter from BCPSEA states that if teachers proceed with their walkouts next week, they will formally be directed not to work during recess or lunch hours or to attend work more than 45 minutes before class starts or stay more than 45 minutes after school ends.
The change in duties would justify the 10 per cent pay cut, BCPSEA wrote to the BCTF, noting it was based on the “principle of reduced pay for reduced work.”
The BCPSEA letter noted that the move was warranted because after a year of negotiations, “BCTF has refused to compromise” on the issue of salary and benefit increases.
“The BCTF seeks $646 million for salary and benefit increases — 21.5 per cent in total compensation increases over four years. This is almost four times the rate of increase in the current settlements of other major public sector unions,” BCPSEA wrote.
“On top of this, BCTF wants to restore class size and composition formulae that are enormously expensive — in the order of $2 billion annually by year four — despite the fact that educational outcomes have significantly improved since the formulae were removed.”
BCTF president Jim Iker called the move to cut teachers salaries “punitive and threatening” and said the issue has already been brought to the Labour Relations Board.
He also said the lockout dates chosen by government could negatively affect graduation ceremonies, the grading of tests and report cards.
“On June 24, all Grade 10 English students and social studies 11 students are writing their provincial exams. Christy Clark’s lockout starts the next day, and that will prevent thousands of students’ exams from being marked,” Iker said.
He said the teachers’ planned walkouts were carefully chosen to have the least impact on students.
“That’s why we went on a one day rotating strike per week because what that means is that all schools across this province would be open for four out of the five days. And we’re hoping that the pressure is on government, the pressure is province-wide and that the disruption for our students is as minimal as possible,” Iker said.
The teachers’ rotating strikes will begin on Monday, May 26, and are scheduled to end on Friday, May 30, when school is expected to be back in session throughout the province.
“Any continuation, and we hope the government will come to its senses, will be based on what is happening at the bargaining table,” Iker said.
The rotating strikes will see every school district in the province closed for one day during the planned walkouts. Sunshine Coast schools will be behind picket lines on Thursday, May 29.
School District No. 46 (SD46) superintendent of schools Patrick Bocking said any students who come to school that day will be sent home, so it’s important parents arrange adequate child care now.
SD46 has been sending home letters and voice messages and putting information online for parents as it has become available.
“Parents with additional questions should contact their child’s principal,” Bocking said.
“It is the nature of labour strikes that there is some level of unpredictability. We will do our best to keep our community well informed.”
© Coast Reporter