As the end of the school year approaches, educators are waiting to see what will come from a mediator appointed by the province to resolve the bargaining impasse with teachers.
A request by the teachers’ union to quash the province’s appointment of a mediator to help resolve the labour dispute went to B.C. Supreme Court last week, although judgment has been reserved.
Meanwhile, talks between Charles Jago, the mediator appointed by the province, and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and B.C. Public School Employers’ Association have gone forward and the union’s action plan to protest Bill 22 – including a withdrawal from all voluntary and extra-curricular activities – continues.
Jamie Brennan, Nanaimo school board chairman and a member of the employers’ association’s representative council, said details of the meetings are not being released, but he thinks it unlikely the two parties will reach an agreement.
“When one party is challenging the role of the mediator to do the mediation fairly, then you clearly don’t have the trust to engage in meaningful mediation,” he said, adding that while this is a provincial issue, it has local impacts.
“It’s uncertainty, the uncertainty of not knowing whether this boycott of extra-curricular work will go into next year,” said Brennan.
Jago, who was appointed in March, is tasked with helping the two sides come to an agreement by June 30. If no agreement is reached, he must issue a report with non-binding recommendations.
Melanie Joy, BCPSEA board chairwoman, said the mediator has been asking the association some tough questions to help determine priorities.
“We definitely are trying to do our best to make the mediation work,” she said.
Susan Lambert, BCTF president, said the union is compelled by Bill 22 to engage in this mediation process and the union feels that only the government’s objectives are on the table.
“I don’t know if there is going to be an agreement at the end of this process,” she said. “I don’t hold out too much hope, but of course you always do hope.”
Derek DeGear, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said local teachers are concerned about the outcome of the mediation and seeing rights being stripped out of collective agreements instead of improved supports for students.
“Teachers started this fight looking for improved conditions,” he said.
In addition to the dispute over the mediator, the employers’ association has also filed an application with the Labour Relations Board asking for a declaration that the BCTF and its members have authorized and are participating in an illegal strike.
Arguments on that application wrapped up June 4.
In April, teachers voted in favour of a resistance strategy to Bill 22 that includes a withdrawal from all voluntary and extra-curricular activities.
Joy said these optional duties are normally performed by teachers at their individual discretion and a direction for all teachers to cease constitutes a strike.
“It’s still a collective action, they’re still saying that all teachers shall not do a part of their job,” she said.
“How can it be a strike if it’s voluntary?” said Lambert. “We’ve done extra-curricular bans before and never been taken to the LRB.”
BCPSEA’s position is that the BCTF service withdrawal captures duties that are required of teachers, such as student tutorials, parent-teacher conferences and staff meetings, as well as optional duties.
DeGear said these activities are still occurring in Nanaimo as far as he knows, although teachers are encouraged to schedule student tutorials into their regular work day and teachers are attending but not actively participating in staff meetings.