Teaching is not a job for everyone. It requires loads of patients, a desire to infuse knowledge into others, passion for learning and a strong belief that the profession is making a difference to the lives of many. The faint of heart need not apply.
On top of the daily pressures of an often under-appreciated job, teachers are also expected to work in a world in which many of its administrative problem solving tools are broken. This gap leads to some real difficulties in the education system. One such gap has been given a sharp slap on the wrists of a government left with no choice, but to listen to. In a landmark decision the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that “laws which take away collective bargaining rights from teachers is unconstitutional and in breach of the Canadian Charter of rights and Freedoms. “Bill 27, the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act, prohibited the inclusion of certain items in teacher collective agreements, including staffing, class size and composition limits. Bill 28, the education Services Collective Agreement Act, amalgamated school districts and local bargaining units, imposing one collective agreement on teachers in the newly amalgamated districts who had previously been covered by two or three local agreements.”
“Ultimately what the provincial government did was strip teachers of their contracts,” said Princeton and District Teachers Union President Robert Tarswell, “and the Supreme Court deemed that to be unconstitutional hence illegal. This is not the first hit the Liberal government has aimed at education either,” Tarswell continued. “When the Liberal government came into office they introduced a 25 per cent tax reduction on the backs of B.C.’s children. For ten years, the children of B.C. have suffered the consequences of this legislation.”
The current imposed working and learning contract is up on June 30 of this year so locals and BCTF are bargaining both provincially and locally right now. These discussions were enough of a reason for ex-Princeton student, current Kamloops teacher and BCTF executive member David Komljenovic to travel south to visit with his fellow union members in town earlier this month. Komljenovic left in 1990 when he was in Grade 8 and came to the BCTF AGM with a message on the heals of the Supreme Court decision. “Teachers have the right and obligation to negotiate learning conditions for their students,” said Komljenovic.
“There are three big issues surrounding the bargaining table,” Komljenovic stated – “class size composition, salary and benefits.
In Saskatchewan teachers for the first time in history walked out of their classrooms in protest to a 3 per cent salary increase when Saskatchewan teachers make more than B.C. teachers already,” stated Komljenovic. “We’re number eight on the salary chain. What it all comes down to is respect and value there is for the teaching system and public education in general.”
“Teachers believe that there needs to be a greater role for local discussions,” Komljenovic continued. “In 1988, teachers gained the right to negotiate all conditions of employment. It was done between local school boards and local teacher’s unions. Then, in 1994, the provincial government imposed a provincial bargaining scheme where the B.C. Public School Employers Association became the bargainer for school boards at that time. The majority of employment conditions were placed on a provincial table. A full agreement wasn’t reached until 2006 primarily because many issues people have at local levels can never be addressed at a provincial table. We also believe that in local democracy it is the citizens of district town that should have a say in decisions made by local representatives. Local representatives should be able to negotiate more than a handful of items with the teachers.”
“Justice Griffin ruled that with the government actions in 2002, teachers were left to believe the government had no respect for them. We have an excellent public education system and we should value people who work with kids every day. Teachers are the ones upholding the system. Teachers want to establish respect for teaching and the profession. How you value a profession is exemplified through how you compensate the people. If you want to attract the best people, they need to feel valued.”
“Teachers don’t just look at what’s good for them, they look at what’s good for the next generation coming in,” Komljenovic concluded. “Teachers are a valuable commodity. It is up to us to make sure they know that.”