By Heather Ramsay-Teachers are on strike, but neither parents nor students may notice a change at first. Teachers want to keep their job action from impacting parents and children as much as they can, says Duncan White, president of the Queen Charlotte District Teachers’ Association.
The strike, which started Wednesday morning in public schools on the islands and across the province is designed to place pressure on the employer, but maintain regular classroom teaching and voluntary extra-curricular activities.
In the first two weeks of the strike, teachers will not supervise students before school, at lunch and at recess. And they will not attend meetings with administrators, nor file attendance records.
Although these may seem unimportant, the job action will affect some field trips such as the Forest Stewardship Outdoor Education Program (see related story). The school district will also have to find someone else to look after supervisory duties.
A total of 88.4-percent of 42,000 teachers in BC voted ‘yes’ in the province-wide strike vote held last week, according to the BC Teachers’ Federation.
The BCTF, which represents public school teachers across the province, has three demands says Mr. White.
One is a 15-percent salary increase over three years. The second is a full restoration of bargaining rights taken away in the contract they were legislated to accept in 2002, and the third is to restore learning conditions taken away in the last contract.
The government removed class size limits, ratios for special education students per class, numbers of learning assistants, teacher-librarians and more.
Mr. White says in the islands’ school district, the impact of these changes is seen in the composition of classes.
“The number of special needs in classes has shot up, with no extra support,” he says.
“It is time consuming and stressful to deal with classes like that, but also demoralizing.”
The limited job action will escalate to rotating strikes starting October 11, then to a full-scale walkout October 24 if there’s no progress at the bargaining table, says Mr. White.
But, to complicate matters, these plans may have to change.
Thanks to legislation enacted in 2001, which deemed teachers an essential service, the Labour Relations Board is involved in the dispute.
Mr. White says BC is the only province in Canada that deems its teachers an essential service.
Normally, the designation is for professions like fire-fighters and police where there’d be danger to the public with a disruption in service, he says.
The LRB has been asked to rule which teachers’ services are essential. That ruling is expected this week.
School district superintendent Mike Woods says the school board hopes labour negotiations will be concluded quickly and that normal school operations resume.
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