Picketers take a brief respite in front of Port Hardy Secondary School during the Vancouver Island North Teachers’ Association one-day strike Monday

Picketers take a brief respite in front of Port Hardy Secondary School during the Vancouver Island North Teachers’ Association one-day strike Monday

Teachers back to work, but strikes to continue

North Vancouver Island public school teachers scheduled for one-day walkout June 6 as part of BCTF's rotating strike schedule.

North Vancouver Island public school teachers went from the frying pan to the fire this week, staging a one-day strike Monday before returning to classes under a partial lockout imposed by the government through the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.

As negotiations between the teachers and the government remain bogged down, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation announced another round of rotating, one-day strikes next week. School District 85 teachers are scheduled to return to the picket line Friday, June 6.

On May 26, the first day of the opening round of one-day strikes, Vancouver Island North teachers took turns walking picket lines at Port Hardy Secondary, Eagle View Elementary and the School District 85 office in Port Hardy, and at North Island Secondary and Sunset Elementary in Port McNeill.

They waved as passing motorists honked support, and some people dropped off snacks and water. Teachers in both communities were joined in solidarity on the lines by several members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Steelworkers’ Union

Teachers at several locations also remarked on the morning’s sunny skies following several days of steady rain.

“I think somebody up there is smiling down on us,” said Shelley Svatos, a NISS teacher.

While many questions remain in the ongoing dispute, the teachers can at least be assured they won’t be legislated back to work, as they were following their last job action in 2012.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender announced Monday that the current impasse in negotiations on a new teachers’ contract would not be broken through legislation.

The legislature is scheduled to wrap up its current session today.

“To rush to legislation is not where we’re going to go,” Fassbender said. “We want the BCTF to come to the table with a wage response that is reasonable and within the zone of other public sector unions. We expect them to come with something that is affordable for taxpayers.”

The one-day strike on the North Island May 26 kicked off a province-wide, four-day series of rotating strikes called by the BCTF.

It marked an escalation of a job action the union began last month with a reduction in services designed to put pressure on BCPSEA negotiators.

The BCTF is seeking a pay increase and concessions in classroom size and composition.

The government, calling the union’s wage demand excessive, responded to the job action by instituting a lockout that will prevent teachers from entering the school more than 45 minutes before classes  or remaining more than 45 minutes after. The lockout comes with a 10 per cent pay reduction meant to mirror the amount of service withheld by the teachers.

“I guess every 10th (teaching) day will be a freebie,” Vancouver Island North Teachers’ Association president Fred Robertson said.

The government has said the lockout does not impact volunteer activities to which teacher have previously donated their time without pay. But teachers here noted the lockout will have an impact as it eliminates much of the time they use for preparing lesson plans and grading papers.

“They say we can still volunteer our time,” said Tammy Bono of Sunset Elementary. “But I’m not going to have time to volunteer for activities because I’m going to have to prepare my lesson plan in 45 minutes. I’m usually doing that until 5 (p.m.).”

The union met with the Labour Relations Board Thursday, May 29, to appeal the lockout.