Necessary fight

Resident raises concerns about the provincial government's actions

I believe it is of great importance to your readers that they understand the important facts behind the current BCTF job action. Negotiations have always been testy between the government of B.C. and  teachers. Both the NDP and Liberals (former Socreds) have had difficulties in the past. Unfortunately in this instance, the struggle is almost completely out of control.

In 2002, with Christy Clark as minister of education, the government unilaterally gutted the contracts of both the teachers and other  government workers, including the health care unions. In essence, the government removed working conditions established legally through collective bargaining.

The B.C. government also barred even negotiating such agreements in the future. Working conditions are an integral part of any collective agreement because they determine, in part, how long a worker can practice their craft. Bad working conditions usually result in early retirement due to burn-out or mental illness. Working conditions are as necessary to a collective agreement as a salary grid, hence modifying them without going through the collective process is, in a way, tantamount to theft.

In 2007,  B.C. health care unions won an action in the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) that struck down this legislation, Bill 28, as illegal in respect to Canada’s Constitution. Teachers launched their own action in the B.C. Supreme Court in 2008. Their case borrowed heavily from the precedent set by our most powerful court.

After a lengthy legal struggle, the BCSC ruled in favour of the teachers, but recognized that the judgment was going to prove expensive for the B.C. government as well as difficult to implement.

In recognition of this, the court suspended the judgment for a full year. During that year, it would appear our provincial government did little to come to terms with their – our dilemma. After a year and one day, they brought in another statute, Bill 22. This bill was essentially a duplication of Statute 28-2002, although it did have a sunset clause in respect to negotiating working conditions.

Teachers again returned to courts and on Jan. 27,  2014, won again.

Madam Justice Griffin also determined the government appeared to be bargaining in bad faith with teachers in that they were trying to foment an illegal job action on the part of the teachers.

The government of B.C. has appealed this latest ruling to the B.C. Court of Appeals, to be heard some time in the future. At the same time, they are attempting to settle a collective agreement that would undermine the teachers’ litigation.  It would appear to me that the government’s chances in both cases are slim and none.

But then I’m not a lawyer, only a graduate from two B.C. universities (BA, M.Ed) and a former air traffic control union rep, the latter  perhaps of greater value in understanding frosty government relations.

I learned in the past, as a young man,  that there could be no running away from a bully, eventually you have to stand and fight. This, teachers appear to be doing. But, then what choice do they have?

As hard as it is on the kids, and two of them are my grandsons, it is a necessary fight.


Bill Dunsmore