Teachers across the province began work-to-rule strike action today — the first of three phases in a plan to show their dissatisfaction with ongoing contract negotiations.
In this phase, teachers will refuse communication with school managers, arriving no more than an hour before and leaving an hour after school, and refusing supervision of students outside class time.
“We will still be teaching our classes, contacting parents and doing report cards,” explained Nelson and District Teachers Association president Paul Boscariol.
This phase also does not affect pre-arranged voluntary activities such as coaching. Boscariol said the aim is have little impact on students while still sending a message to the school and district administration.
Kootenay Lake school district superintendent Jeff Jones said in a media release that “during this phase of strike action, administrators will be performing some of the duties that teachers will withdraw.”
He went on to ask for patience from parents during the course of the strike: “workloads will be increased substantially and administrators will be less able to respond to your requests.”
The BC Teachers Federation and BC Public School Employers’ Association have been at the bargaining table since February 2013 trying to agree on terms for a new 10-year collective agreement for teachers.
In March, union members voted 89 per cent in favour of a three-stage strike plan. The necessary 72-hour notice for the strike to begin was given this past Thursday by BCTF president Jim Iker.
The strike will remain in Phase 1 as long as there continues to be progress at the bargaining table. But if talks break down, teachers could move into Phase 2, which involves rotating one-day walkouts in districts around the province.
The third phase of the plan is a full-scale strike. But Boscariol said, “I remain optimistic that this will all be resolved before it comes to that.”
The BCTF rejected the government’s offer for a 10-year agreement with pay increases totalling 6.5 per cent over the first six years and additional wage increases to be negotiated for the final four years.
“Compared what the province has negotiated with it’s other public sector unions, what they’re offered for teachers is much too low,” Boscariol said.
BCTF negotiators countered with a three-year proposal with three per cent plus a cost-of-living increase in each year. With compounding and current estimates of inflation, BCPSEA calculates that could amount to 13.5 per cent over three years.
The union and employers are also at odds over class size and composition requirements being included in the collective agreement negotiations.
“It’s hard to believe the government when they say they don’t have money to spend on eduction when they’ve spent so much on litigation and having their negotiators bargaining with us for more than a year,” Boscariol said. “Everybody knows there needs to be give and take when you’re negotiating. So far we haven’t seen a reasonable offer come to the table.”
— With files from Tom Fletcher