Teachers begin ‘subtle’ job action

While it may appear as business as usual in the opening weeks of a new school year, the president of the local teachers’ union said it’s anything but.

While it may appear as business as usual in the opening weeks of a new school year, the president of the local teachers’ union said it’s anything but.

“It’s not business as usual,” said Fred Robertson, president of Vancouver Island North Teachers’ Association.

“Teachers will continue to teach, assess students, take attendance, communicate with students and parents, participate in voluntary extra curricular activities and go on field trips, (but) our time won’t be tied up with administrative, bureaucratic tasks and endless meetings.”

Teachers across the province started Phase 1 of a job action — the Teach Only campaign — at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Teachers will also not be doing supervisory tasks, such as morning recess or after school supervision.

But teachers are free to coach after-school sports and other extra-curricular activities, said Robertson.

“People are certainly free to — the union’s not saying ‘do this’ or ‘do that,’” he said. “That’s not part of what we do.”

The idea, said Robertson, is to put pressure on the system, both provincially and locally to bring attention to the teachers’ basic 3 demands.

The demands include more manageable class sizes — and the ability to negotiate them in the collective agreement — because “Classes are much larger now than they were 10 years ago,” said Robertson. He noted there are also fewer educators in the system than a decade ago, the same time frame that saw School District 85 close six schools.

Salaries and benefits also need to be adjusted, said the association president.

“We used to be relatively higher than other salaries across the country, but we’ve fallen to eighth and, certainly right now, teachers all around western Canada and Ontario are paid well above what teachers in B.C. are,” he said.

“If I left now to work in Calgary, I could make at least $20,000 more a year than I am right now.”

Robertson said teachers have not been able to renegotiate or adjust the School District 85 benefit package “in any way shape or form” for the past 20 years.

The third demand revolves around local bargaining issues.

“Since the mid-1990s, we haven’t had a process to address the local issues we have, such as teachers on call,” said Robertson.

“Ultimately, school boards and districts no longer have the ability to set their own budgets; they rely completely on what trickles down from the ministry.”

Robertson also had harsh words for The BC Public School Employers’ Association, which negotiates on behalf of school boards with teachers.

“The BCPSEA has not only brought nothing to the bargaining table, they have presented language that is a direct assault on teachers’ collective agreements, and language that has taken decades to achieve,” he said.

“They seek to eliminate all processes that ensure transparency and fairness in hiring.”

And the association’s next move?

“Let’s give this a chance,” said Robertson of the current job action.

“It will put quiet and subtle pressures on the system.”