Wednesday, November 23, 2011

19th century labour relations for 21st century education?

In a surprising move yesterday, BCPSEA tabled a package that intensifies the attacks and concessions in teacher bargaining. BCPSEA now wants to remove job security provisions, fair access to assignments and positions, teacher autonomy in professional development and classroom teaching practices, and due processes in teacher evaluation and discipline.

In essence, BCPSEA want exactly what the Tea Party governors in the US are doing through legislation - the virtual elimination of rights for employees and almost total control for management in most areas of the employment relationship.

This 19th century model of labour relations, which pre-dates widespread unionization, is referred to in the legal world as the "master/servant" relationship. The employer, in effect, has control over most aspects of the employee's work. Master/servant Acts in British Commonwealth legal systems were predicated on obedience and loyalty from the employee to their employer As Wikipedia describes them: "These Acts are generally regarded as heavily biased towards employers, designed to discipline employees and repress the "combination" of workers in trade unions."

Imposition of this type of relationship would effectively de-professionalize teaching. It is an approach being pursued vigourously in the United States, where teachers have less and less ability to meet the individual needs of students as they are forced to conform with new standards, focus on testing rather than creativity and problem solving, and increasingly have fewer and fewer rights to negotiate collectively. Renowned Professor of Education from Stanford University, Linda Darling Hammond, described it this way: "Some policymakers argue that we should eliminate requirements for teacher training, stop paying teachers for gaining more education, let anyone enter teaching, and fire those later who fail to raise student test scores. And efforts like those in Wisconsin to eliminate collective bargaining create the prospect that salaries and working conditions will sink even lower, making teaching an unattractive career for anyone with other professional options."  (

BCPSEA wants teachers to be regularly subject to "expectations, directives and requirements" in many aspects of their functioning. What is sometimes couched in language of "support" (especially in the Ministry BC Education Plan), is in fact a set of employer mandated requirements about how a teacher teaches. Rather than respecting the professional opinion of teachers, BCPSEA wants teachers to be subject to directives of the employer in many areas of their work, or else be subject to dismissal. Such an environment of control will put a chill on teachers and reduce creativity, variety and adaptation to student needs.

In contrast, one of the best performing school systems in the world, Finland, takes a completely opposite approach to teachers. It is a competitive profession to enter. Teachers have a very high degree of autonomy. Teachers are well paid and respected, akin to doctors and lawyers. Darling Hammond describes this contrast as well, from her attendance at the Summit on Teaching:

"The contrasts to the American attitude toward teachers and teaching could not have been more stark. Officials from countries like Finland and Singapore described how they have built a high-performing teaching profession by enabling all of their teachers to enter high-quality preparation programs, generally at the masters’ degree level, where they receive a salary while they prepare. There they learn research-based teaching strategies and train with experts in model schools attached to their universities. They enter a well-paid profession – in Singapore earning as much as beginning doctors -- where they are supported by mentor teachers and have 15 or more hours a week to work and learn together – engaging in shared planning, action research, lesson study, and observations in each other’s classrooms. And they work in schools that are equitably funded and well-resourced with the latest technology and materials."

So why is BC following the American route? Why 19th century labour relations? Why is the government and Trustees, through their bargaining agent BCPSEA, trying to get massive concessions in bargaining, reduce teacher salaries, reduce teacher autonomy and demoralize teachers?

And in the same vein of reasoning, why are they not addressing the very real issues that we do have - chronic underfunding, stagnating salaries, inadequate time for preparation and assessment, earthquake prone schools, child poverty,...and the list goes on. There are many areas for improvement. Neither BCPSEA nor the provincial government is addressing any of them.

As one teacher asked, why are they bullying, not bargaining?


  1. Its a good question. I'd have thought that a good way to convince teachers to accept lower wages would be to INCREASE teacher autonomy. Although money is important, many teachers value their work on a higher level than the rather small pay raise. If they can't give us more money why can't they use other ways to make the job more attractive. Seems like the absolutely worst time to try to wring concessions from the union. Unless of course, someone is just trying to ramp up the confrontation for political purposes. Maybe The Premier thinks that talking tough with teachers is a way to win back some of her dwindling right wing support.

  2. A wide range of provisions may be negotiated in collective bargaining between teachers' unions and school districts. Some subjects are mandatory, while others are merely permitted or even prohibited. State law governs the appropriateness of subjects to be bargained.