Open letter: To the parents of B.C. on the ongoing teachers dispute

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Photo: flickr/Jayel Aheram

This letter was sent to Laila Yuile by a parent in Surrey, B.C., who has been very involved in the school system for a long time, with hopes that it will assist other parents in understanding part of what's going on right now in the teachers dispute.

As a parent of children who have been in the school system since the late 1990s I have a unique perspective on the current negotiations. I was in the system when class size and composition were in the teachers' contract and quite frankly when the system worked. Here is a little history that many parents don't know.

There is a fable that class size and composition provided hard caps in the teachers' contract. In fact no they did not. Classes often went over the caps, but there was a mechanism in place through grievance that allowed teachers to grieve their working conditions if they were over the caps.

Arbitrators had the ability to provide more teaching time to the class or extra SEA resources or more time from specialist teachers for example. Why is the important to today? Because they could also award cash. This provided a system of better supports for all children in the classroom, but it also provided a tipping point where the grievances became too expensive and schools were built.

In 2002, the Liberal government introduced Bills 27, 28 and 29. Bill 27, the Education Services Collective Agreement Act, and Bill 28, the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act dealt with the teachers and Bill 29 dealt with the Healthcare Workers. After the passing of the bills an understanding was created and the Healthcare Workers chose to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and in 2007 was awarded the judgement below

Many thought the government would apply the decision in Heathcare Workers to teachers, however this did not happen and in 2011 Justice Griffin made her first ruling

It is important to note that Justice Griffin had one choice in disposing of the sections of Bills 27 and 28 that were ruled unconstitutional. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms dictate the disposal

  • (1)The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of Canada, and any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution is, to the extent of the inconsistency, of no force or effect. 

 It is important to note that in the first ruling the parts of the legislation that stripped out the teacher's right to class size and composition were voided and Justice Griffin gave the government one year to remedy the situation and deal with the cost implications of her decision. This ruling has never been appealed.

Rather than deal with the decision, the government again passed legislation in the form of Bill 22. So off the BCTF went to court again. This time however Justice Griffin was less conciliatory.

Why is this important to today? Please see the beginning, arbitrators had the right to award cash for past grievances.

Due to the time that has been allowed to pass and the thousands of classes that do not meet the language on the contract, conservative estimates owed to teachers is now over a billion dollars. The government needs a way to negate the past damages.

Everyone asks why now for the strike?

It all comes down to the appeal set to be heard in the Court of Appeal on October 13 and 14.

The government needs to have the teachers sign away their rights to Justice Griffin's decision. The government can't legislate class size and composition again they need to have a collective agreement signed that negates those rights.

The Supreme Court of Canada has reaffirmed, in 2011, its decision in Healthcare Workers that governments cannot use legislation as a way to circumvent the collective bargaining process and cannot use legislation to impose working conditions subject to bargaining.

Essentially E80 and E81, of the BCPSEA offer, are a get out of jail free card for the government failing to address the issues in Justice Griffin's decision, which is why you should not count on the government legislating the teachers back to work.

For parents this is your decision.

The only way our kids will go back to school prior to the Appeal Court hearing is if government feels enough pressure to do so.

My question for the government is, if they are so sure they will win at the court of appeal, why not take out both E80 and E81 and let the judicial chips fall where they may?"

Patricia Enair, Surrey BC.


This letter originally appeared on Laila Yuile's blog and irsreprinted with permission.

Photo: flickr/Jayel Aheram

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