Victoria teachers grudgingly accept provincial contract

Job action this September unlikely but not completely ruled out

B.C. teachers officially reached a collective agreement with the province, but if the decision fell solely in the hands of Victoria teachers, they would remain without a contract.

Members of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation have voted to ratify the agreement made on June 26, 2012 with the government’s bargaining agent, the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association. In a province-wide vote conducted June 27 to 29, 21,044 teachers cast ballots and 75 voted yes.

Local vote results, while confidential, are considerably different, said Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association president Tara Ehrcke.

“I’m disappointed, myself,” Ehrcke said. “The Victoria vote was different from the provincial vote. We had significantly different numbers in terms of turnout and the ratification numbers.”

Ehrcke expects more disappointment from more GVTA members. All teachers voted confidentially, but the GVTA executive had made a recommendation to its members not to ratify the agreement.

“However, a vote’s a vote and we will certainly abide with the will of the majority and we’ll be looking at the next round of bargaining, and primarily the issues of class size and composition and a fair salary increase,” Ehrcke said. “It wasn’t an agreement anyone was celebrating over.”

Just 52 per cent of teachers participated in the vote – a number Ehrcke attributes to its timing at the end of the year when teachers are tired and busy tying up lose ends.

The agreement includes some improvements to benefits for three-quarters of the province, including teachers in School District 61, as the province moves towards a standardized model.

“As some teachers have remarked, the extra $50 every two years for eyeglasses will take you a few decades even to get you back the three days pay you lost while you were on strike. When we say minor improvements, they are minor.”

Job action this September, while unlikely Ehrcke said, hasn’t been completely ruled out.

“Throughout 80 bargaining sessions, government refused to budge from net zero and persisted in demanding the elimination of hard-won labour rights and fair process provisions around post and fill, and transfer and recall,” said Susan Lambert, president of the BC Teachers’ Federation, in a release. “With this settlement we have forced government off its punitive agenda.”

Despite the ratification, the bargaining is far from over. Last week’s agreement is valid just until 2013, with the next round of bargaining set to begin in March, 2013. The BCTF is also suing the province for damages caused by Bill 22, which ordered an end to the teachers’ job action. They are to meet in B.C. Supreme Court this December.

“In a strictly technical sense, I guess they’ve got a deal,” said Ken Thornicroft, labour relations expert at the University of Victoria. “But it sounds to me like all (teachers) have done is preserve the status quo for a year and they’ve decided to take their chances on the new government.”

nnorth@saanichnews.com