||Volume 16, Number 6, May/June 2004
It has been a tumultuous spring on the labour front in B.C. Most noteworthy was the overwhelming public and union support for the Hospital Employees’ Union. BCTF members all over the province were determined to join the political protest in solidarity with the HEU. Indeed, teachers in Victoria, Sooke, Saanich, and Quesnel did withdraw their services. An eleventh-hour deal averted a general strike, but together we sent a clear message to the government.
Meanwhile, the Liberals passed two more pieces of legislation directly affecting teachers.
Bill 19 imposed in law the contract stripping conducted by government-appointed arbitrator Eric Rice. Even though the B.C. Supreme Court said Rice’s ruling should be quashed due to fundamental errors of law, Bill 19 makes that flawed ruling into law.
Because of teachers’ unity and resolve on the college issue, the Liberals could no longer ignore our calls to restore democratic governance. Bill 55, introduced a year after they took control of our college, provides that 12 of the 20 councillors will be elected. Under Bill 55 the requirement for teachers to report on any breach of the so-called "standards" is gone, replaced by a sensible requirement to report when a student’s wellbeing is threatened.
The latest legal decision we’ve received is a significant victory. Respected arbitrator Don Munroe upheld our right to inform parents about the impact of cuts and policy changes on students’ learning conditions. School boards and administrators violated the Charter right to free expression when they forbade teachers from distributing cards detailing class size and school staffing changes, Munroe said, and such interference is not justified in a free and democratic society. He also ruled that although teachers owe the common law duty of fidelity to their employers, they do not owe a duty of fidelity to the provincial government.
This is my last column as BCTF president. As I head into retirement, I want to thank all of you for the opportunity to lead our Federation over the past two years. It has been a great honour to serve the cause of public education, to advocate for students, and to speak for you—the most inspiring and dedicated group of professionals one could imagine!