STORY OF THE YEAR: Labour unrest keeps education unsettled

Labour unrest in the education sector is my pick for story of the year.

Labour unrest in the education sector is my pick for story of the year.

This spring, a full-scale, month-long strike was launched by professors at Vancouver Island University and job action for Nanaimo’s public school teachers started in September and is ongoing.

Both strikes generated a lot of stories in the Nanaimo News Bulletin and affected many residents. Thousands of university students were out of class for a month, many of whom had to put off plans for summer jobs and some lost the semester altogether – the university doled out refunds for 1,200 courses, which equals about 250 full-time students.

In the K-12 system, teachers are refusing to do supervision and certain administrative duties and while the impacts on students and families are minimal at this stage, there are impacts: report cards were sent home with no grades or other achievement information; schools could not host evening Christmas concerts; and there was an uproar earlier this year over international field trips, which were cancelled briefly due to fears the teachers might escalate job action.

The strikes came at a time when both the public and post-secondary education sectors are facing annual budget cuts to balance the books.

For professors, program cutbacks and layoffs were a major concern and teachers are fighting for improved working conditions – including limits on class sizes and the number of special needs students to be included in contracts – and increased salaries and benefits.

Both stories will continue next year, as the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation appear to be nowhere close to a negotiated settlement and the professors return to the bargaining table in the spring.