The legislation introduced this afternoon by Education Minister George Abbott constitutes yet another assault on the profession of teaching and the public education system by this provincial government.
BCTF President Susan Lambert characterized Bill 22, the cynically entitled Education Improvement Act, as “a destructive act of legislative vandalism that will violate collective bargaining rights for teachers and have a profoundly negative impact on learning conditions for students.”
Under the guise of imposing a six-month “cooling-off period,” the bill empowers the minister to appoint a mediator who is constrained by the net-zero mandate and tasked with reaching agreement on a number of concessions tabled by the employer. The bill imposes a two-year wage freeze, which means every teacher will lose about $2,800 in purchasing power.
“This bill forces us into a mock mediation that has a predetermined outcome, and is designed to make teachers complicit in stripping the remaining protections in our own collective agreement,” said Lambert. “It’s absolutely Orwellian.”
The aspect of the legislation that is most damaging for students prohibits teachers from bargaining class size, average class size, staffing levels, ratios or caseloads for another two years. Thus, there are no effective limits on the number of children who can be assigned to any class over Grade 3 or on the diversity and complexity of needs represented within any class.
“Why should these bargaining rights be postponed until after the next election? This means students will have suffered worsening conditions for a full 12 years,” Lambert said. “Teachers sacrificed raises in the past to win protections for class size and composition because we care about our students and want to be able to teach to individual needs. I can only imagine how concerned parents will be when they realize that learning conditions are only going to get worse as a result of this bill.”
Bill 22 also includes severe penalties in the event of an illegal strike: $475 per day for individual teachers, $2,500 per day for union officers, and a minimum of $1.3 million per day for the BCTF. “The fines in this bullying legislation are punitive in the extreme,” Lambert said. “They are a clear attempt to intimidate teachers.”
Teachers will continue voting Wednesday on whether to escalate their limited job action to a full-scale walkout. Lambert, other BCTF executive committee members, and local union leaders across the province will be consulting members about the next steps.