Public schools won’t reopen in British Columbia on September 2 if there is not a collective agreement between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government.

Hundreds of local teacher leaders gathered in Kamloops in late August to work out the next phase of the BCTF campaign to reach an agreement that provides a limited salary increase, but improvements in class sizes and class composition. The salary proposal would continue to leave BC salaries lower than for many other teachers across Canada. The focus on class size and composition results from a decade of larger classes and more students with special needs, without the support specialists to provide assistance.

The BC Liberals used legislation in 2002 to eliminate the limits on class sizes and the guarantees of specialist teachers. Since then, two decisions in the BC Supreme Court ruled that the legislation was illegal because it violated the Charter rights of BC teachers. The government has refused to abide by the court rulings and appealed still again.

At the bargaining table the government is trying to overturn any future ruling that again confirms they acted illegally. If the courts direct them to restore the teaching conditions that existed more than a decade ago, government wants the union to agree that they can ignore the decision and not make the improvements required.

The cuts to schools in BC over the last decade see the province providing $1000 per child less than the Canadian average. This has produced the worst student teacher ratios in the country. Teachers finally said enough and voted to strike. Rotating strikes started in mid-May and moved to a full shutdown in June.

The cynicism of the government was demonstrated when it announced that every day schools are shut by a strike, the government will pay parents $40 per student per child under the age of 13. For an elementary class of 30 that should be in school learning, they are prepared to pay $1200 to parents for babysitting, rather than being willing to pay teachers a reasonable salary with adequate teaching conditions.

BCTF president, Jim Iker, spoke for all union members when he said that every teacher would prefer to be in class and teaching in September, but not with worse and worse conditions for students and teachers.

Teachers are working in their communities to seek support from parents and other community members, including the labour movement. It is more than just teachers who have to pressure the government to reach a fair settlement.

This report was written for the website by Larry Kuehn of the BCTF