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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 5, March 2006

BCTF proposes solutions to bargaining structure

The BC Teachers’ Federation has outlined its plan to address the dysfunctional bargaining structures in the K–12 sector. The 15-page submission sent to Industrial Inquiry Commissioner Vince Ready articulates the Federation’s proposals on local versus provincial bargaining, the scope of issues, and means of dispute resolution. It also looks at funding and the role of government in the teacher bargaining process. "A good collective bargaining system produces a relationship where the parties are prepared to live with, and work under, the agreement that is reached," the report states.

The BCTF is urging a return to local bargaining, so that teachers represented by their local unions would bargain directly with their employers, the elected school trustees. The needs and conditions of Stikine, for example, are radically different from those of Surrey.

We are also calling for full scope bargaining. That is, the right to be able to bargain all the terms and conditions of employment, including class size, class composition, and staffing levels. During the last round, the government prohibited negotiation of these very issues, and as a consequence, teachers had no choice but to go on strike to achieve improvements for their students and themselves.

"Simply put, any collective bargaining system that does not allow teachers to address these issues will fail," the report states.

The BCTF is also calling for Ready to recommend that government bring British Columbia back into harmony with international labour law by repealing its essential service legislation and restoring teachers’ legal right to strike.

"The right to strike is fundamental to the health of a collective bargaining structure. Without it, the [bargaining] table does not have two equal partners. Without it, there is no incentive on the employer’s part to bargain seriously when the issues are contentious," the report states.

Further, it points out that the International Labour Organization, a UN agency, "has consistently ruled that the withdrawal of services by teachers...is protected under international law."

For the first time in its history, the BCTF is also prepared to agree to provincial negotiations on the level of government funding that would be allocated to the local bargaining process. "This would assure government that it has some control over the expenditure of resources, but at the same time would allow the local parties to agree on how, and on what, the expenditures would take place," the report states.

Finally, the BCTF is calling on government to stop intervening legislatively in the collective bargaining process. The submission to Ready quotes Mark Brown, vice-chair of the Labour Relations Board:

"While legislation may end a dispute, it cannot force co-operation, it cannot force creative and innovative thinking to find long-term solutions to problems, and it cannot force the necessary dialogue to create productive, flexible, and adaptable workplaces. Imposing terms of a collective agreement by legislative intervention has a chilling effect on the long-term collective bargaining relationship," Brown wrote.

On January 30, 2006, the government announced that it was extending the time for Vince Ready to make his submission on the bargaining structure to March 31, 2006. His report had been due on January 31, but he said that the issues were too complex for him to develop a recommendation in the time provided. He acknowledged our new proposal to bargain provincial resource levels with full-scope bargaining at the local level. Teachers would have the right to strike available at both the provincial and local level.

To read the BCTF’s proposed solutions in full, go to: bctf.ca/bargain/negotiations/iic/BCTF-submission.html.

– Nancy Knickerbocker

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