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Bargaining rights hinge on appeal, BCTF hears

By Mike Youds
August 25, 2016 12:00 P.M.

A long awaited Supreme Court decision on whether a B.C. Liberal government had the right to strip teachers’ contract rights is expected to coincide with next spring’s provincial election. 

Glen Hansman, newly minted as president of the B.C. Teachers Federation, told the union’s summer conference in Kamloops Thursday that the high court decision is a concern for unions across the country.

“The reason why teachers unions and others are so focused on this in the past year is because it’s not just about class size and composition and those other items that were taken away from us,” Hansman told hundreds of delegates assembled at TRU. “If government’s case in this prevails, it means that collective bargaining is essentially meaningless.”

The Supreme Court ruled in January that it would hear the BCTF’s appeal to restore contract language affecting class size, class composition rules and specialist teacher ratios. The case will be heard on Nov. 10 in Ottawa.

“It’s been a really, really, really long time coming, and government will say that they feel extremely confident in their position. And guess what, we feel really confident in our position,” Hansman said.

The dispute dates back to 2002, when the Liberal government of Gordon Campbell, with Christy Clark as minister of education, stripped its collective agreement with the BCTF. 

Public school teachers maintain they’ve been been struggling with the classroom impacts of that ever since, even though the BCTF won Round 1 in court. In 2012, the government passed Bill 22, which blocked teachers from negotiating class size and composition.

Hansman said if the B.C. government can get away with stripping the BCTF contract, the same could be done to any collective agreement.

“It could very well be that we get a decision as of March, April, May next year, which happily coincides with the writ period in the provincial election,” he said.

Hansman, who succeeded Jim Iker as BCTF leader earlier this year, recalled teaching under different conditions.

“Sometimes it feels like we’re talking about a utopia. I know the conditions we had in Vancouver … and I remember the day they were taken away, the immediate impact the following school year in terms of losing special needs teachers and everyone having larger classes."

Hansman said so many years have passed that a lot of newer teachers won’t remember what it was like in the past.

“We’re now at the point where 50 percent of our members never worked under that language and we’re determined to get it back for them.”

The BCTF leader also touched on new curriculum that's being phased in by the province, a change affected by classroom conditions.

“We all know that this is brand new curriculum being introduced at a time when working conditions are terrible.”

Preparation for the next period of contract bargaining begins at the summer conference in Kamloops. The BCTF bargaining committee has been working on a three-year draft timeline.

“We’re trying to get ahead of things.”

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