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B.C. teachers' action amounts to illegal strike, filing argues

British Columbia Teacher's Federation president Susan Lambert addresses striking teachers and other supporters during a rally on the final day of a three-day province wide walkout in Vancouver, B.C., on March 7, 2012.


In the latest twist in a bitter dispute, the province's bargaining agent has filed an application to force B.C. teachers back into extracurricular activities, by asking the provincial labour board to deem teachers' withdrawal from such activities an illegal strike.

If the application is successful, camping trips and other outings that have been cancelled as a result of the ban could be back on.

"Some events, they're cancelled and they're gone for the year," Kamloops school district superintendent Terry Sullivan said on Wednesday. "Others, [an LRB finding of an illegal strike]would mean they would go ahead with teacher participation. For things like graduation, I think it would just make it more memorable for students if their teachers were there participating."

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The British Columbia Teachers' Federation maintains teachers are withdrawing from what they consider voluntary activities – such as coaching sports teams – and that the withdrawal was the only tactic teachers had left to protest against what the union characterizes as punitive legislation.

Teachers adopted the strategy in April to protest against Bill 22, new education legislation passed in March.

Since then, concerts, camping trips and other events have been cancelled, even as parents and administrators scrambled to keep some activities – including graduation ceremonies – on track.

On Wednesday, the British Columbia Public School Employers' Association – the province's bargaining agent – filed an application with the B.C. Labour Relations Board, seeking a declaration that the BCTF and its members are taking part in an illegal strike.

In its filing, the BCPSEA states that the duties and activities that the union and its members have refused to perform – under a BCTF action plan that members endorsed last month – are "regularly and ordinarily performed by teachers in their capacity as teachers employed by the School Boards."

The filing also maintains that the "BCTF's Action Plan has removed from teachers their option to individually choose whether to perform Optional Duties and has instead compelled them to participated in a concerted refusal."

BCPSEA has requested a hearing before the LRB on May 11.

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While calling the withdrawal of extracurricular activities "unfortunate," the head of the Parents Advisory Council at one Vancouver elementary school said teachers have been left with few options.

"Bill 22 pretty much handcuffed them," said Tim Wearing, president of the PAC for Hastings Elementary. "I understand the teachers have to do something."

Possible sanctions for members who go against the ban could include having their name published in BCTF bulletins and not being eligible to run for union positions.

The application comes on the same day that the BCTF headed to court in hopes of ousting a government-appointed mediator in the dispute.

Bill 22 imposed a six-month cooling-off period and provides for a mediator – although the mediator is bound by the government's net-zero mandate, which requires that new contracts can't cost any more than the agreements they replace.

Soon after the bill was introduced, the government named Charles Jago, an academic and author of a 2006 report on education, as a mediator in the dispute. Citing bias and a flawed process – including the fact that Dr. Jago had been shown parts of Bill 22 before it was passed – the BCTF asked the LRB to quash his appointment.

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The LRB said it didn't have jurisdiction. On Wednesday, the BCTF filed an application in court, seeking either to have Dr. Jago's appointment quashed or to obtain an interim order that Dr. Jago not issue a report until a court decision has been made.

Under Bill 22, Dr. Jago has until the end of June to make non-binding recommendations.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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