British Columbia’s long-running teachers’ labour dispute flared up in the legislature on Monday, when a Liberal MLA put forward a motion to support the right of teachers and parents to provide volunteer extracurricular school activities “without fear of intimidation or job loss.”
The motion, put forward by Liberal Randy Hawes, set off a testy debate, including NDP MLA Leonard Krog questioning the purpose of the bill.
“What is this going to achieve this morning? It is gasoline on a fire,” Mr. Krog said in the House. The debate was adjourned without a vote.
Teachers around the province have withdrawn from extracurricular activities to protest against Bill 22, new education legislation that was in March.
That step, which has led to cancelled sports events, concerts and year-end camping trips, has also resulted in reports that teachers could be penalized or even lose their union membership if they defied the ban and continued to volunteer.
The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation says that’s not the case. Teachers could, however, be subject to sanctions that include having their names published in a BCTF newsletter and being ineligible to run for union positions if they continue to volunteer.
Several BCTF locals, including the Burnaby Teachers Association, have sent e-mails or bulletins to members about the extracurricular ban, raising concerns that teachers who may wish to continue coaching or volunteering could be subject to pressure.
In an April letter, the Burnaby Teachers Association reminded its members that BCTF policies provide for sanctions against members who act contrary to collective action.
Teachers are withdrawing from extracurricular activities at a time when year-end trips and activities would typically be in full swing. In some cases, parents and students have spent months raising funds for trips that will no longer take place. In Kamloops, some funds raised for such trips are being been rolled into the programs for the next year, says district superintendent Terry Sullivan.
“End-of-year trips are not going forward,” Mr. Sullivan said in a recent interview, adding that graduation ceremonies are a priority and are going ahead.
Amid the uncertainty around trips and concerts, one fixture on the year-end scene is getting a boost. Ticket sales for the Vancouver International Children’s Festival, which runs from May 29 to June 3 on Granville Island, are improving, says festival executive director Katharine Carol.
With the festival’s programming scheduled during school hours, a class outing to the festival would not be considered an extra-curricular activity.
“Now that we’re not seen as extra-curricular, some teachers have called and said, ‘Can we still get tickets?’ which is great,” Ms. Carol said.
A legal teachers’ strike between September and March had hurt festival ticket sales, because of uncertainty whether festival outings would be in line with job action in which teachers withdrew some of their services.
Bill 22 ended that strike and imposed a six-month cooling-off period.
The province has appointed Charles Jago to mediate the dispute. Dr. Jago, an academic and former president of the University of Northern B.C., has until June 30 to make non-binding recommendations.
Teachers and the province are at odds over issues including wages and class size and composition.