One-year deal doesn’t solve main issues

Nanaimo educators say a tentative deal between teachers and the employers’ association leaves important issues unresolved.

Nanaimo educators say a tentative deal between teachers and the employers’ association leaves important issues unresolved.

The proposed settlement between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and B.C. Public School Employers’ Association was reached late Tuesday, just days before the June 30 deadline for mediator Charles Jago to either help the two parties achieve a negotiated settlement or issue a report with non-binding recommendations.

It expires June 30, 2013, and the BCTF executive committee is recommending ratification.

Justin Green, first vice-president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said the agreement includes slight improvements to benefits and leave provisions, but does not address the main issues the union brought forward  – most importantly, negotiated limits on classroom size and the number of special needs students in each class.

“It didn’t accomplish our objectives,” he said. “I think at this point, it’s probably the best we can get.

“It’s almost kind of a status quo. I get the feeling it’s more of a stop gap and let’s see what happens next spring. Eight months from now, we’re going to start again.”

Teachers vote this week on the deal, with results reported Friday evening.

Green said the union was afraid that if a settlement wasn’t reached between the two parties, the province would legislate a contract that would strip rights from collective agreements – this way the BCTF still has some control over what is in the agreement.

He expects teachers won’t be happy with the deal, but that there will be some sense of relief that they won’t face another year of job action and Labour Relations Board rulings.

“If we do ratify and come to an agreement, then the Bill 22 action plan ends,” said Green. “It’s been a very long year. Not having to be on job action in September – that’s a significant thing. There’s going to be a certain amount of relief.”

One remaining question is what will happen with extra-curricular activities next fall, he said.

Teachers withdrew from voluntary services this spring as part of the action plan to resist Bill 22 – provincial legislation passed earlier this spring that suspended teacher job action and appointed a mediator with specific terms of reference to help resolve the dispute.

The BCTF is challenging Bill 22 in B.C. Supreme Court.

Green said improvements to benefits were made possible by standardizing the plan and teachers will actually receive a pay cut instead of the gain they were seeking due to inflation.

The agreement stipulates that both parties must continue talks on the split of issues between local and provincial tables and professional development and evaluation language, he added.

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said the two parties have achieved an agreement, but not a resolution – the settlement meets the province’s net zero mandate, but it doesn’t resolve key issues for teachers.

“Hopefully we’ll see a restoration of whatever normal is in the fall,” he said. “I imagine there’s a feeling of lack of fulfillment in the sense that teachers didn’t get what they set out to achieve. I know they’re feeling beat up by the government.”

Donna Reimer, school district spokeswoman, said the district is encouraged by the fact there is a tentative agreement, but will not comment on impacts to the district until the deal is ratified.