No end in sight for teachers’ job action

Bargaining between the teachers' union and the employers' association resumes today (Oct. 6), but neither side holds out much hope for a quick resolution.

The teachers’ strike continues with no end yet in sight.

Bargaining between the teachers’ union and the employers’ association resumes today (Oct. 6), but neither side holds out much hope for a quick resolution.

Teachers, whose contract expired last June, started job action when school resumed in September. Job action consists of teachers refusing to do non-essential duties such as playground supervision and report cards.

Derek DeGear, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said there’s been no progress at the provincial bargaining table.

“I’m not holding my breath at this point,” he said.

Teachers are seeking improved working conditions – including limits on classrooms sizes and the number of special needs students in each classroom put back into their contracts – improved salary and benefits packages, and more power at local bargaining tables.

DeGear said things are progressing at the local table – the NDTA reached an agreement with the district on several items, including improved access to information between the two parties.

But some issues specific to the district, such as the post-and-fill language in the local contract that results in a mass teacher layoff at the end of each school year, are still designated as provincial issues and cannot be dealt with locally, he added.

“I’ve been given no indication that the government is willing to move any items to local tables,” said DeGear.

Glen Hansman, second vice-president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, said it will be difficult to reach a settlement under the province’s net zero mandate, which means no concessions that result in additional costs to the province.

“They have zero dollars and zero cents to work with,” he said. “Things are going very slow and things are going to continue to go slow if the government doesn’t amend its net zero philosophy.”

The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association’s representative council, which includes one trustee from every school district in the province, met on Monday to discuss the effect of the job action on districts and ask members how they felt about different options available to put pressure on the union, such as reducing teacher pay or imposing a lockout.

Mel Joy, BCPSEA chairwoman, said the association received majority support to move forward with whatever bargaining tools are available at the right time.

She said the two parties are still discussing the split of issues between local and provincial tables and have not started discussing the BCTF’s $2 billion worth of benefit improvement requests.

“At the moment, with how far apart we are, it’s going to take some time,” she said.

Trustee Nelson Allen, BCPSEA representative for Nanaimo school board, said district management and staff are feeling pressed because they have to take over supervision duties from teachers, but Nanaimo isn’t in the same situation as smaller districts, where senior staff have to travel long distances between schools and there are fewer of them to cover off supervision duties.