The Labour Relations Board has released its recommendations in response to the BCTF's application under Section 88 of the BC Labour Relations Code. You can read Teri Mooring's email to the Federation's members below.
In September, the BCTF filed an application with the Labour Relations Board (LRB) under Section 88 of the BCLabour Relations Code. Our hope was to get the government to address the many communication, process, and health and safety problems of their restart plan. Critically, our application sought to enhance the enforcement measures to ensure school districts follow the Ministry of Education's guidelines to keep teachers and students safe. You can read our initial application to the LRB here.
Today, the Labour Relations Board released its recommendations. You can read them here.
We only just received this information and will have more details and analysis to you and our locals as soon as we can.
Overall, the recommendations from the Labour Relations Board closely reflect what the BCTF had been seeking. There are recommendations to:
- enhance the role of the Ministry of Education’s COVID-19 Steering Committee.
- improve communication and consultation between the various stakeholders.
- require the Ministry of Education to explain the rationale for changes to guidelines or standards and seek input before implementing those changes.
- provide neutral parties from the Labour Relations Board to troubleshoot issues on an expedited basis about problems with the implementation of health and safety measures.
- track the nature of the disputes and the LRB may make recommendations to address recurring issues.
All along, the K–12 restart plan was missing a mechanism to address failures in communication or required health and safety measures. This new expedited troubleshooting process from a neutral third party will help schools and local unions get changes in a much faster and efficient way. It is still critically important that individual teachers work with their local union, staff reps, and health and safety committees to ensure safety concerns are known and reported.
This ruling is a significant achievement and was possible because of the advocacy, focus and perseverance of our members and our union. While it does not address our concerns around the need for a broader mask policy, reduced classroom density to facilitate physical distancing, and other preventative measures, it will serve to support our efforts to enforce the health and safety guidelines that are in place.
I also wanted to update you on other key advocacy measures the BCTF has taken.
Meeting with Dr. Henry and staff from the Provincial Health Office
As previously communicated, the Full-Time Table Officers of the BCTF met with Dr. Henry and members of her team on October 22, 2020. It was only an hour, but we were able to cover a lot of ground around our concerns about inconsistent communication, problems with contact tracing, confusing changes to health standards, and the inability of teachers and students to physically distance themselves in classrooms. Dr. Henry and her team were receptive to hearing our concerns and open to more meetings. We have a follow up meeting scheduled with doctors from the Office of the Provincial Health Officer and will keep you updated on any more developments.
Ongoing push for a broader mask mandate
Since August, the BCTF has pushed for a more robust mask mandate in schools. Masks are an important layer of protection as physical distancing is not possible in many classes. We have made our concerns to government clear that is unacceptable to treat schools differently than other workplaces. A stronger mask mandate, or at minimum encouragement from the government and Provincial Health Officer would help those schools that have had trouble creating a culture of mask wearing. We continue to encourage teachers to wear masks when distancing is not possible, including in classrooms. The BCTF also believes that teachers do not have to wait for the Provincial Health Officer. Many schools now have full mask policies because the staff, Joint Health & Safety Committee, or Administrator made it happen. You have a lot of experience creating norms. You know how to take charge of your own classroom. You can't force students to wear masks, but you can model mask wearing and normalize it.
Working with multiple government agencies
In addition to our work with the Ministry of Education and Provincial Health Officer, the BCTF has been working hard to explore other avenues to ensure teachers and students are protected. We worked with Elections BC to ensure schools were not used for polling sites when classes were in session. They also paid for extra cleaning so that would not come out of school district budgets.
The BCTF will also be meeting with WorkSafe BC about our ongoing concerns and exploring if there are roles for the provincial Ombudsperson and the Human Rights Commissioner.
The BCTF also has written to Jennifer Charlesworth, the Representative for Children and Youth. She has agreed to meet with us to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts on children and learning in K–12 public schools.
Overall, the Federation has been consistent in our positions that density needs to be reduced, equitable hybrid options need to be available, smaller classes should be the norm, and a stricter mask mandate should be in place.
Thank you all for everything that you are doing everyday to support your students. This is an incredibly stressful time in all our careers, your work is valued and deeply appreciated. We will continue to update you with any further developments.