Educators caught off guard by proposed 10-year deal

NANAIMO – Education officials surprised to learn of province's proposed bargaining framework for teachers.

Nanaimo education officials said they were surprised to learn this week of the province’s proposed bargaining framework for teachers and have concerns about various aspects of it.

Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Don McRae unveiled the proposal Thursday, which calls for a series of changes to achieve labour peace and long-term stability to the public education system through a 10-year agreement with teachers.

The proposed framework calls for indexing public school teacher salary increases to an average of increases given to other public sector employees and creation of an education policy council with representatives from government, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. School Trustees Association to advise government on policy priorities and allocating a $100-million “priority education investment fund” – available in the third year of the agreement to address education priorities.

Clark said the goal of the 10-year agreement is to give Grade 2 students a chance to go through their entire school career without a disruption.

Justin Green, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, questions the timing of the announcement because the teachers’ federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association have been working on a new bargaining structure, with the BCTF representative assembly meeting in Vancouver this weekend to discuss and possibly ratify the agreement in principal.

“Then this came out,” he said.

Green said the proposal takes bargaining rights away from the union in that wages would be subject to what other public sector groups get, not negotiated, and there is no indication it would include giving teachers the right to bargain working conditions such as limits on class size and the number of special needs students in each class – a key issue for the union and one the BCTF fought a long court battle over.

McRae said provincial legislation allows for these issues to be negotiated and this confusion reinforces how important it is for the parties to sit down together.

Jamie Brennan, Nanaimo school board chairman and a member of the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association’s representative council, said the announcement caught him off guard since he was also in Vancouver discussing the agreement in principal between employers and the union.

“It’s like we have two parallel universes at work here,” he said. “Here we are talking about guiding principles in bargaining … and we may be moot.” Brennan is also worried the duties of the province’s proposed education policy council could overlap with the authority of local school boards.