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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 7, May/June 2006

Bill 33: A step in the right direction

by Peter Owens

The courageous stand taken by teachers in October 2005 has produced significant changes in the labour relations climate in BC. The first noticeable change was the government’s approach to collective bargaining.

After our strike the government acknowledged it cannot resort to the use of legislation to impose its will. Rather than ripping up collective agreements, it promised a pool of money for settlements and a second pool for signing bonuses.

Near the end of March, 2006, BCGEU President George Heyman, while announcing the signing of a new agreement with the government, commented that the provincial government paid attention during last year’s teachers’ strike. "The days of ripping up contracts are over," he said.

In early April, after nearly 225,000 public sector workers had signed new agreements, BC Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair credited teachers for turning labour relations in BC around. He noted that solid public support for teachers showed the government it could no longer impose contracts on workers.

The second dramatic shift for the government was the introduction of legislated class-size limits for Grades 4–12 on April 27, 2006. In September 2005, the government was claiming that there were no problems with class sizes in BC. As the strike ended, the government acknowledged that class size and composition was a problem, but it could be addressed at the Learning Round Table.

As late as April 21, 2006, other groups at the Learning Round Table, while admitting that there were pressure points with class size and composition at the Grades 4–7 level, wanted to ensure that administrators had flexibility in setting up classes. BCTF representatives repeatedly made the point that allowing flexibility meant that over 9,000 classes currently have 31 or more students in them and almost 11,000 classes have 4 or more students with special needs.

Despite the fact that the round table participants were insisting on flexibility, the government introduced Bill 33 to limit the size of classes from Grades 4–12. Minister of Education Shirley Bond acknowledged as she introduced the legislation that, "Class size and composition were also central to the two-week illegal strike last fall by the BC Teachers’ Federation."

The introduction of the legislation was greeted by the BCTF as a small step in the right direction. BCTF President Jinny Sims wrote to the minister of education acknowledging this change of direction. Sims went on to make a number of points regarding the legislation.

  • It is critical that adequate funding be provided to school boards to implement the legislative changes successfully.
  • The requirement for the teachers’ consent to exceed the legislative limits in Grades 4–7 should be expanded to Grades 8–12.
  • Shop, lab, and home economics classes have specific and serious safety concerns and should be limited to 24 students.
  • The timelines for finalizing class sizes should be shortened.
  • There should be ratios for non-enrolling, specialist teachers including teacher-librarians, ESL teachers, counselors, learning assistance teachers, resource teachers, and others to support students and ensure their success.
  • There should be class-size limits for alternate programs and special programs to provide appropriate support and learning environments for students involved.
  • The legislation does not provide for the needs of ESL students and others such as gifted, who clearly require extra support but do not currently qualify as students with special needs.

Sims reiterated that the BCTF views the legislation as moving in the right direction and called on the government to work with teachers to ensure that school boards, administrators, and teachers working together can meet the needs of our students.

Peter Owens is an assistant director of the BCTF’s Communications and Campaigns Division and editor of Teacher.

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