Schools throughout the Central Okanagan—as well as in 14 other B.C. school districts from Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert—were closed tuesday and barring a last-minute deal between teachers and the government., they will be closed here again next Monday
The closures are part of pressure by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation to pressure Victoria to make a deal by closing every school in the province for one day.
But its hit-’em-where-it-hurts strategy of rotating strikes that affect elementary and secondary students in every public school in B.C. has only resulted in more hardball talk from the other side.
The government says it will dock teachers five per cent of their pay if they don’t make a deal by the weekend and the group representing school districts says it will lob off another five per cent and local out teachers in June if no deal is made. If the government and school boards carry through with that threat you can bet it will end up in the courts. Maybe even before the threat is carried out.
So, if the hardline rhetoric sounds familiar, it should.
Since the former NDP government established province-wide bargaining when it comes to collective agreements for teachers more than 20 years ago, there have been three legislated contracts, one legislated “cooling-off” period and just one negotiated contract. And all of those have been punctuated by a war of words between the teachers and the bargaining agent for the school districts or the government.
Despite the fact these are educated people, the folks on both sides of this issue—past and present—seem unable to learn from past mistakes. The system is broken but neither side is willing to try and fix it. They just want what they want and are willing to walk off the job in the teachers’ case or lock out their employees in the school boards/government’s case, to get it.
In the current dispute, both sides have their supporters and detractors. But for all the bluster coming from the Minister of Education and the president of the BCTF, the public hears one thing—when it comes to getting what they want, both sides will use the education of children as a weapons.
Sure, both sides say they doing it for the kids. But how committed to that are they if they won’t fix a broken system that has been proven time and time again over 20 year to not work?
This time around, as in the past, parents, have to helplessly look on as their kids are used as pawns in a recurring labour dispute that plays out every few years, watching as schools are closed, teachers strike, school districts lock teachers out and the kids, who have no say in the matter, are directly affected by adults who do.
There’s no doubt teachers are adversely affected by the constantly occurring labour disputes too. But they knew what they signed up for—or at least should have, given the aforementioned history of contract negotiations in this province.
So why not bring in one of the very skilled labour relations mediators we have in this province, get a deal done and then fix the system rather than waiting another few years to go through it all again?
Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.