JIM Iker, B.C. Teachers Federation, on Thursday announced that the BCTF will appeal the BC Court of Appeal’s ruling that has overturned a judgment that would have restored class size and composition rules to the teachers’ contract.
Iker called the ruling disappointing, but noted that there was a strong dissenting opinion from one of the five judges.
Iker said: “The decision is not unanimous and the earlier B.C. Supreme Court decisions show there are fundamental disagreements around the law and those issues still need to be dealt with. For example, I don’t feel that sufficient weight was given to the Supreme Court of Canada decisions from earlier this year regarding the RCMP and Saskatchewan Federation of Labour.”
He added: “After today’s quick analysis, it seems that this ruling swings the power too far against workers’ rights. A government should not be able to just dictate what they want, simply talk to the union, and force it by legislation when there are collective agreements in place. Collective bargaining needs to be about give and take … about respect and hard negotiations between employers and employees. Collective bargaining – real collective bargaining – is not about pre-determined outcomes.”
He said that the BCTF will seek leave to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, adding: “B.C. teachers will continue to defend our rights, our working conditions, and BC’s public education system.”
Iker also noted: “Today’s decision does not change the unconstitutionality of Bill 28. The government was wrong to unilaterally strip teachers of the right to bargain our working conditions. Today’s decision doesn’t change that. The decision doesn’t change that Bill 28 allowed the government to underfund B.C.’s education system by hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Thirteen years later, the government still has not apologized to B.C. teachers, parents and students for that unconstitutional act and subsequent underfunding.”
Iker said: “It is only because of the Teacher Education Fund – $75 million this year – that we fought so hard for – that has kept class composition from deteriorating. That fund barely hired back the 400 teachers that were laid off last year. Education underfunding is not a “myth” as the minister claims. There is no low-hanging fruit as the Premier says. Trustees, parents, support workers and teachers are all speaking out against the underfunding and cuts. It’s time for the government to listen. The government has money in the budget. They knew this ruling could have had a financial impact so they put some away in a contingency fund. The money’s there, they should invest it in our schools and kids.”
Iker also pointed out: “There’s also one more thing the education minister can do. He can pull back Bill 11. Learn from the mistakes of the past … mistakes that show unilateral decision-making leads to instability. Bill 11 brings in sweeping changes to teachers professional work, it negatively impacts student privacy, and centralizes power in the minister’s office over democratically elected boards. The minister did not consult with anyone on the changes. He didn’t consult with teachers or school trustees. And now there is a growing chorus calling on him to repeal it. I think the minister should listen to his partners and look back at this history of conflict and confrontation. If the government is serious about stability and moving forward, repeal Bill 11 and actually consult … in good faith.”
MEANWHILE, Education Minister Peter Fassbender made the following statement on the B.C. Court of Appeal ruling:
“On preliminary review, we are very pleased with the Court of Appeal’s decision.
“Along with last year’s historic six-year agreement, today’s decision gives us a unique opportunity to work with teachers to improve outcomes for students.
“Since 2002, we’ve seen dramatic improvements in student outcomes, particularly for students with special needs – and teachers should be very proud of this.
“Starting to move past this legal dispute allows everyone to focus on what matters most – working together to improve opportunities and outcomes for B.C. students.”
NDP spokesperson for education Rob Fleming in a statement said:
“Premier Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals are not delivering the public education system students and their families across this province deserve, and this court ruling doesn’t change that.
“Premier Clark’s confrontational approach with teachers began when she ripped up their negotiated contract in 2002, and continues to this day with Bill 11.
“Premier Clark oversaw the longest school strike in B.C. history and failed to fully fund the agreement that was finally reached with teachers like she promised she would. During the dispute she said class composition was her number one priority, but government’s own reporting shows class size and composition issues haven’t improved at all.
“If Premier Clark wants anyone to take her at her word that she’s ready to work with teachers, she should start by withdrawing Bill 11 from the legislature, or refer it to the Standing Committee on Education as the Opposition has proposed.
“Bill 11 shows Premier Clark’s Liberals haven’t learned a thing about how to work with their partners in education. This bill is a continued attack on the teaching profession, and an attack on elected school trustees.
“Parents and students have endured disruption and uncertainty in schools under Premier Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals, and it’s time for that to change.”