Friday, March 25, 2011

Why the BC Government wage freeze is indefensible

In the wake of teachers expressing their intention to negotiate a fair
and reasonable salary increase, commensurate with what teachers earn
in other provinces, came a litany of "excuses" from government. These
are almost always predicated on the BC government's "net zero" mandate
- a wage freeze for the public sector.

To defend the government's position, newly minted Minister of
Education George Abbott had this to say: "net zero is the order of the
day" (as reported in the Globe and Mail). How enlightening. My
question is: WHY?

I am firmly opposed to accepting a net zero contract and zero wage
increase. Here are my reasons.

1. It is a pay cut

Inflation is running at about 2.2%
This means that a zero percent increase amounts to a pay cut for
teachers. Zero over two years would
be a 4.4% pay cut. And we would likely never make that up (it being very
rare to bargain raises significantly above current inflationary

2. Public sector workers already took a pay cut in the last decade

While inflation ran at 19%, public sector increases were on average
17%. Private sector increases kept pace with inflation. While teachers
did better than other public sector workers, they are still behind
their private sector colleagues. If public/private sector equity is a
consideration, we are behind and need to catch up.

The government likes to argue that the net zero mandate needs to be
applied fairly across the public sector. Yet that same government
provided 3% increases to nurses, breaking it's own rule. When asked
why, the PSEC chair simply said the nurses "were lucky". Many public
sector unions have yet to settle and many, like the teachers, don't
believe the net zero mandate is fair. The government should eliminate
the mandate and treat public sector workers fairly.

3. MLAs gave themselves 29 - 54% increases

In 2007, the Liberals gave MLAs an increase of 29%, with 54% for the
premier (
Exactly how do they justify "net zero" for the rest of us if they are
deserving of so much more? Even spread over four years, this amounts
to 7.25% per year, all front loaded, while every other public sector
worker was expected to live with "net zero".

If they were so concerned about finances come the recession in 2008,
surely they should be paying their fair share with a wage rollback?
They did that to health care workers. Are politicians the only public
servants who deserve increases?

The hypocrisy is overwhelming.

4. BC is not in a recession

The "net zero" mandate was brought in immediately after the recession
of 2008. But BC has had reasonably positive economic growth in the
last year (forecast of 2.2% in 2010 with higher projections for 2011 -
two year old recession is not a justification for a wage freeze now.
Even CEO's project four years of solid growth

This fact has been recognized by Ontario arbitrators who have refused
to uphold Ontario's wage freeze and instead awarded wage increases in
accord with inflation and private sector increases. If the argument is
that public sector employees need to be subject to market forces, then
government bargaining positions need to change to be in accord with
current realities - not those of two years ago.

5. Teachers are working harder and longer

The stripping of the collective agreement in 2002 had a tremendous
impact on teachers’ workload. Combined with budget pressures on local
boards, the expectations on teachers have risen dramatically. Not only
do teachers have incredibly challenging classes to teach, we also
read/write/implement more IEPs, attend more meetings, call more
parents, do more filing/paperwork. The average teacher is now working
49 hours per week and ten percent of teachers are working 60 hours (as
reported in the 2009 BCTF study on teacher work-life).

6. Low wages impact the teaching profession

Countries with excellent education systems, such as Finland,
consistently point out that one aspect is the respect and treatment of
the teaching profession. This includes high educational standards, and
also higher wages. If we want the most capable to enter the
profession, it must be one worth pursuing - both in terms of job
satisfaction as well as remuneration. Currently, BC teachers are
eighth amongst provinces for wage levels. Yet BC is one of the most
expensive places to live. A teacher near the border with Alberta will
be earning upwards of $10,000 less than their counterpart just across
the provincial border. BC will lose excellent teachers if this wage
discrepancy continues.

7. The government can afford it

Despite the rhetoric, this government is all about priorities, not
belt tightening. There was little discussion of afford-ability when
first a 25% tax cut and then the aborted 15% tax cut was introduced.
Or what about the $1 billion for the Olympics? The BC stadium roof?
From contract stripping, to back to work legislation, to the zero wage
mandate, this government has attacked public sector workers. This is
an ideological attack. It is not based on reason, finances or good

8. The government can change it

There is no wage control legislation. What there is is simply the "net
zero mandate". It is time for the government to review this unfair
practice just as it did the minimum wage and gaming grants. There is
no reason to stick stubbornly to an unfair policy.


  1. 2 months off every year is a nice perk....maybe all the workers in BC should request that.... oh I forgot all the pro days thrown in....I'm really amazed at how little teachers "teach" these days

  2. Interestingly, Canada provides some of the lowest vacation time in the developed world. I absolutely think that all working Canadians should have considerably increased time available for their families and themselves.

    Teachers are paid only for time worked - teachers receive no pay in July and August. Teachers work a ten month year just as other workers have seasonal schedules and seasonal pay.

  3. In response to the August 20, 2011, comment: Teachers are paid September through June with a two-week paid vacation at Christmas and, generally, a one week paid vacation in the spring - they are not paid for the summer months. Though not formally, in effect, they are temporarily laid off each summer. As for the "pro days" (five per year), they were added by lengthening the school year at the request of teachers in 1972.

    Do teachers make too much money for the work they do? First, consider the fact that to be able to teach in the public system, a teacher has invested at least five years in university training at an average cost of $75,000 - $90,000 and paid for the privilege of "apprenticing" as a student teacher (while peers in other fields are paid for their on-job training).

    Then, after receiving teacher certification, it generally takes three - five years of working as a teacher-on-call (while working one or two part-time jobs in the evenings and weekends) before a teacher secures full-time employment (note I did not add "permanent" as numerous districts largely hire on a "temporary" basis, leaving those teachers in a precarious position when considering financial investments like purchasing housing).

    Also, many teachers use the summers to upgrade their skill set by taking further courses - an investment they finance on their own, and to develop new programs for their students in the fall. (It is worth noting that numerous teachers also use part of their paid holidays to plan and prepare course work.)

    None of the above, of course, addressed the reality that throughout the school year, teachers continue their work into the evenings and on the weekends.