B.C.'s limiting of teacher bargaining rights 'unconstitutional'

B.C.’s limiting of teacher bargaining rights ‘unconstitutional’

SURREY — The province’s limiting of teachers’ bargaining rights has been deemed unconstitutional by the B.C. Supreme Court.

The ruling restores collective agreement provisions stripped by the province in 2002 relating to classroom size, composition and special needs support staff.

In addition, the province was also ordered to pay $2 million in damages to the British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF).

While the language has been retroactively restored to the collective agreement dating back to 2002, the provisions mentioned are still on the table during the current round of bargaining.

“I’m very happy today,” said BCTF President Jim Iker. “This is the end of a long and costly legal battle for the teachers of B.C.”

The legislation in question had already been declared unconstitutional in 2011 and the judge at that time had given the government a year to address the issues. Iker noted that the government instead simply reintroduced the same provisions, which eventually led to this week’s ruling.

Jennifer Wadge, president of the Surrey Teachers’ Association, said she was pleased with the ruling, as it gives teachers something to work with when it comes to having a say in managing their students’ learning environments.

“I’ve been talking to teachers and they’re pretty astounded because the ruling is a big win on our side,” said Wadge. “This is a big victory for students and parents because what this means is the number of specialist teachers would grow drastically. So it’s not just class size language but the language about how many counsellors there are per students, learning support teachers, that’s really the big win for everybody.”

Wadge added that teachers who are stretched too thin now have a process to grieve their classroom conditions and in the bigger picture, teachers can now bargain classroom size.

“They (the province) weren’t interested in bargaining anything so now we have something to work with,” she said.

Following the ruling, Surrey based Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he was disappointed in the decision.

“We’re really concerned about student outcomes and that’s where our focus has been and that’s where it’s going to continue to be and how we ensure we have the maximum amount of dollars dedicated into the classroom,” he said.

As for an appeal, Fassbender said the government would need to thoroughly review the ruling and its implications before it decides one way or another.

-With files from Cheryl Rossi


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