As students return to school in BC this week, teachers are beginning a "teach only" job action. The purpose of this action is to put pressure on Administration, and thereby government, to come to the bargaining table with a new mandate. Only when the government moves off of it's "net zero" position can real bargaining begin.
The government has come to the table with an extreme position - not one penny available for bargaining. Only concessions on the table. With inflation factored in, this means government wants teachers to "negotiate" how to cut their salary and benefits. They have stated over and over again that they will not move off of this position.
Teachers have actually taken "0" percent four times in the last 13 years - 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2005. Once was when we "traded" no salary increase for class size limits, which have since been unilaterally removed by this government. The second was imposed when the government legislated teachers back to work and imposed zero for two years.
Meanwhile, as teacher salaries fell from 3rd in Canada to 8th in the period since 2006, the premiere and MLA's (including Mr. Abbott himself) received a 29% pay increase.
Is this good faith bargaining?
Bargaining is a process of give and take. Of compromise. Both parties put positions on the table and expect to have to change their position. The process of negotiations is to work through these compromises. Teachers have openly said that our proposals are our "starting" position.
In this case, however, one party, BCPSEA (the government's bargaining agent), has said there is no compromise. There is no room to move. "Net zero" will not change. In essence, there is no negotiation.
Some newspaper editorials and even BCPSEA have been quoted publicly saying that the bargaining structure is doomed "to fail". Any bargaining structure where the people who make the decisions are not actually at the table is not likely to succeed. In this case, government holds the purse strings but they only have a "representative" at the table - not someone who has the authority to make decisions on their behalf.
Further complicating the bargaining process is the fact that even though individual school boards both pay for and administer the collective agreement, they do not bargain very much locally with teachers' associations. This makes it difficult if not impossible to identify areas of shared interest, since the people who live with the agreement are similarly not at the table.
If Mr. Abbott, the Minister of Education, has an interest in fixing the current dispute, he needs to:
a) put an end to the "mandate" that restricts BCPSEA
b) agree to fund a new agreement
c) allow school Boards to negotiate
Then, bargaining could start in earnest.