Just as teachers across the province are wearily wrapping up a school year marred by conflict with the BC Liberal government over unsuccessful contract negotiations, the Labour Relations Board (LRB) has given them something to smile about.
In a ruling issued on Friday (June 15), the LRB has made it clear that the withdrawal of voluntary extracurricular services by B.C. teachers in protest of Bill 22 is not an unlawful strike.
“This is a significant legal victory for teachers because it clarifies the distinction between voluntary and non-voluntary work, and it reaffirms that the countless hours that teachers devote to extra-curricular activities with students truly are voluntary,” said British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) president Susan Lambert in the official press release.
Teachers have been without a contract since last June, mainly due to the BC Liberal government’s “net zero” mandate, which means that any new public-sector contracts cannot cost the government any additional money. What began as a limited strike back in September, where teachers refused to do administrative duties such as filing report cards through the provincial system, culminated in a three-day strike action in March.
In response, the government passed Bill 22, the controversial legislation that forced teachers back to work, reinstated report cards and banned further walkouts, to which teachers voted to withdraw their extracurricular activities.
This action would have been deemed an unlawful strike under the new bill had the LRB ruled against the BCTF and in favour of the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA), the government’s bargaining agent.
But LRB vice-chair Ritu Mahil found that “the Union has not declared or authorized an unlawful strike by directing its members to refrain from participating in activities which occur outside of class time/instructional hours and are truly voluntary and extra-curricular,” stated the release.
“It’s just been a struggle,” Windermere Teachers’ Association president Doug Murray told The Valley Echo. “I don’t think parents get what’s going on behind the scenes — larger class sizes, library teacher time, learning assistance time, funding for testing, things like that; we want our boards to have more money to do more things for kids but you take away $3 billion over ten years provincially? Things aren’t happening.”
With B.C.’s general corporate income tax rate reduced from 16.5 to 10 per cent, it’s the middle class that ends up paying through education, Murray said.
He hopes some kind of agreement can be worked out at the provincial level but said that given the government’s past unwillingness to budge, the odds aren’t good.
“Everything is about concessions, nothing about how to improve things,” he said. “Our working conditions are [students’] learning conditions, so they’re really linked.
“We have to keep the issue alive.”