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British Columbia Education Minister George Abbott visits a kindergarten class at James Thompson Elementary School in Richmond, B.C., on Tuesday November 16, 2010. (Darryl Dyck For The Globe and Mail/Darryl Dyck For The Globe and Mail)
British Columbia Education Minister George Abbott visits a kindergarten class at James Thompson Elementary School in Richmond, B.C., on Tuesday November 16, 2010. (Darryl Dyck For The Globe and Mail/Darryl Dyck For The Globe and Mail)

B.C. Teachers' Federation asked to turn over 15% of members' pay Add to ...

A proposal that the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation should turn over 15 per cent of members’ pay and benefits to pay for strike costs would amount to millions of dollars a week and would drain the union’s strike fund if that fund were used to pay the tab.

The proposal – filed Wednesday with the B.C. Labour Relations Board – is the latest volley in a labour dispute in which both sides appear dug in and is aimed at ratcheting up the pressure on teachers, who have been engaged in limited job action since classes resumed in September.

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“Teachers have withdrawn their services but continue to receive their full salary and benefits,” says the Oct. 26 application from the BC Public School Employers’ Association. “BCTF members have engaged in strike action to apply pressure on the employer, yet suffer no reduction in their salary.”

That scenario has resulted in an “imbalance” in a controlled strike environment, the application states – one that would be remedied if the BCTF were ordered to reimburse school districts 15 per cent of salaries and benefits paid monthly to teachers.

With salary and benefits for B.C. teachers ringing in at about $2.9-billion a year, a 15-per-cent weekly levy would run at about $8.4-million.

The BCTF has a strike fund of about $10-million, BCTF president Susan Lambert said on Wednesday. The application notes that the union could pass on costs of reimbursing employers to union members, in effect cutting their pay.

The reimbursement is one of two elements in the application, which also asks the labour relations board to require BCTF members to prepare and distribute report cards.

If the union were to go along with that step, the BC Public School Employers’ Association might back away from its request that the union pony up for strike costs, the application states.

“If the BCTF elected to direct its members to prepare and issue report cards, then [the BC Public School Employers’ Association]might well not seek reimbursement of a percentage of salary and benefit costs,” the application says.

The labour relations board is not expected to make a decision on the application until November.

Ms. Lambert questioned the amount cited in the application, saying teachers were still providing extensive services and teaching in the classroom.

“They have not hired any additional staff to do any of the work we are not doing – so how would you determine the value of that work?” Ms. Lambert asked. “And, in fact, nobody is leaving school early. Teachers are spending the time in classroom with kids.

“That’s what you want to penalize teachers for?”

According to the application, several senior educators estimate that activities withdrawn so far through job action – such as handing out forms and supervising detention – amount to between 15 and 20 per cent of work normally performed by a teacher.

The application to the labour relations board came on the same day that B.C. Education Minister George Abbott unveiled the BC Teachers’ Council, a new body that will replace the BC College of Teachers.

Under the new system, disciplinary hearings will be open to the public and the teachers’ union will no longer dominate the adjudication process when teachers are accused of serious misconduct.

The college was created in the 1980s to set standards, issue teaching certificates, investigate complaints and impose discipline. It has been overhauled repeatedly. But a fact-finding report last year concluded the agency does not consistently put student safety ahead of the interests of teachers because of the degree of influence held by the BCTF.

The council will include three members of the BCTF, seven “education partners” chosen by government, and five members elected by teachers.

Although the union can hold a majority on the new council, a separate disciplinary board will be created to hear complaints of a serious nature. In that body, the union will not be allowed to have more than one member on any three-member panel. As well, certification of teachers will now be handled by the ministry of education.

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