Trustees for a B.C. school district plan to write to Education Minister George Abbott to express concerns about the appointment of Charles Jago, who was recently named as mediator in a labour dispute between teachers and the province.
Board members voted in favour of the step at a regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, vice-chair for Central Okanagan School District Moira Baxter said on Thursday.
Ms. Baxter said she and fellow board members – who are represented in negotiations with teachers by the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association – at first welcomed the concept of a mediator for talks that had been stalled for months.
“We welcomed that because the discussions and negotiations had been going on for so long and didn’t seem to be getting anywhere so this seemed like a viable option,” Ms. Baxter said on Thursday.
Her initial concerns related to whether the mediator would have any room to negotiate, given the requirement that mediation fit within the government’s net-zero mandate.
Then, with the appointment of Dr. Jago, an academic and former president of the University of Northern British Columbia, she was dismayed by reports of his referring to his job as “mission impossible” and conceding he didn’t have high hopes of success.
“That to me immediately put up the red flags because I thought this is really peculiar,” Ms. Baxter said. “We’ve got to say this isn’t a good start to the mediation.”
Ms. Baxter says she was further unsettled by details that emerged last week, after a meeting between Dr. Jago and the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation.
On April 5, the BCTF filed an application with the Labour Relations Board asking that Dr. Jago be removed. The union cited bias and a flawed process, including the fact that Dr. Jago had met with government officials to discuss his role before he was publicly appointed and before Bill 22 was passed in March.
The bill ended teachers’ job action, imposed a cooling-off period and brought in a mediator, who is bound by the government’s net-zero mandate.
The BCTF also said that Dr. Jago told the union that he had been involved in drafting the legislation.
In response, Mr. Abbott last week said he and staff met with Dr. Jago on Feb. 16 and showed him parts of the bill, but only those relating to the mediator’s role.
On March 16, Mr. Abbott wrote to the union and provincial bargaining agent, asking for their submissions. The union put forward two names, both judges, but neither was available. On March 28, Dr. Jago was appointed.
Now, the BCTF and the province are at odds over whether the Labour Relations Board has jurisdiction to oust Dr. Jago. The BCTF maintains it does; the government says it does not. A decision on that is expected next week.
Ms. Baxter, meanwhile, said she and her board members have been left scratching their heads.
“This seems like a strange way to be going on if there was really an effort by the government to get this concluded in an amicable way,” she said.