Despite a new collective bargaining agreement not being in place between B.C. teachers and the Ministry of Education at the start of the 2019-20 school year, school is on for students in Nanaimo, including those at Dover Bay Secondary School. (News Bulletin file)

School starts in Nanaimo-Ladysmith despite no deal for teachers

B.C. teachers, education ministry to resume mediation Sept. 23

Despite an expired contract, teachers in Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools will carry on business as usual as the school year begins.

The last deal ended in June and while a B.C. Labour Relations Board mediator, David Schaub, met with the B.C. Ministry of Education and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation last week, negotiations have recessed until Sept. 23, with the provincial teachers’ union stating in a social media post that the hiatus will allow both sides to work on their proposals. Until then, language from the old contract will carry over until a new one is ratified, said Denise Wood, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, the union local.

“Right now, we have class size limits for most classes, I would say, we have ratios for specialist teachers and we have composition language, which basically tries to spread out complex classroom needs so that they’re not all concentrated in one classroom,” she said. “What the employer is tabling, it would remove all of that. It would increase class sizes significantly, it would remove all reference to complexity of classrooms or class needs and they are also trying to increase the ratios for specialist teachers.”

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Wood said she couldn’t discuss if the sides were close to a deal, but did say the 20-day break will give the sides time to “see if we can make some changes that might be amenable on both sides.”

Class size and composition negotiating rights were removed from the collective bargaining agreement in 2002 by the government of the day and were restored in 2016 by a ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada. Wood said the union doesn’t want to lose those rights again.

“The employer has tabled concessions on April 2 and that hasn’t changed,” said Wood. “That didn’t change the whole time we were with mediation and that’s a big problem for teachers because they’re asking for concessions to the very language that we won back in the Supreme Court of Canada in 2016 that we fought 14 years in the courts to get back and we’re not willing to give those up.”

Speaking last Friday, before the break was announced, Rob Fleming, B.C. education minister, told the News Bulletin he was optimistic about talks.

“I’m proud to say that the tone and respect that we took with teachers getting to the bargaining table, I think has got us to a positive place here where we’re not dwelling in the uncertainty and strife that we were in 2015,” said Fleming. “We’ll get to a deal; whether it’s today or in the days and weeks ahead remains to be seen.”

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