Surrey teachers rally outside of Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains’ office Thursday afternoon (Sept. 19) to voice their concerns about the collective bargaining. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

Education

Surrey Teachers’ Association rallies about bargaining agreements at NDP MLA offices

Two other rallies planned for Sept. 26

The Surrey Teachers’ Association rallied at two NDP MLA offices Thursday (Sept. 19) to voice their concerns about the collective bargaining.

Teachers first rallied at Surrey-Whalley MLA Bruce Ralston’s office before moving to Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains’ office.

Surrey Teachers’ Association president Matt Westphal said the teachers were told Ralston wasn’t at his office. As for Bains’ office, Westphal said he wasn’t sure if Bains was there or if staff were “just not making themselves available.”

The main messages of the rallies, according to Westphal, is that concessions need to come off the table and the government needs to provide more funding to make a deal.

READ ALSO: School returns in B.C. with uncertainty surrounding contract for teachers, Sept. 1, 2019

The BC Public School Employers’ Association, Westphal said, is looking to increase class sizes, get rid of composition limits and reduce the number of specialist teachers in Surrey by more than 25 per cent, which would be more than 200 full-time teaching positions.

“These concessions are unacceptable and would lead to reduced support and services for all Surrey students, especially for our most vulnerable and those with the most complex needs,” he said.

Westphal said both Ralston and Bains’ ridings have some “very needy schools.”

“It’s unconscionable that they could be actually looking at cutting those.”

The provincial government, he said, also needs to provide more funding to make a deal, adding that the amout of funding the NDP government has provided the BCSPEA is “inadequate.”

Westphal said the amount of money the NDP government has provided to BCSPEA is inadequate. He said it is only enough to provide a two per cent per year raise over three years.

“That will not allow us to solve the teacher shortage,” Westphal said. “There are about 600 unfilled teaching positions across B.C., and it is hard to recruit from outside B.C. with the second-lower pay, and the highest cost of living.”

Westphal highlighted a Grade 5/6 class at Betty Huff Elementary that has no permanent teacher yet, three weeks into the school year, because no one applied for the position.

He said the class has had different substitute teachers and teachers on call, adding that the walls are bare in the classroom “because there’s no stable teacher.”

“That’s what you need,” he said. “You need a teacher there so they can build a community with the students and that can’t happen if it takes several months to do that. That’s going to hurt those kids because they need that stability for school.”

Asked if he thinks students are aware of the situation, Westphal said some are.

“In the classrooms, students as is there going to be a strike and things like that. I think they’re worried. It’s a distraction that’s still lurking in the background.”

Going into the school year, Westphal said Surrey teachers thought they would have a deal sorted out.

“These folks don’t want to be here. They want to be at their schools. They’re still getting their classes running this year. That’s what they want to be able to do,” he said.

As for when the NDP came into power in 2017, Westphal said teachers didn’t think they would be at this point: rallying outside their NDP MLAs’ offices.

“We have a different government and we are expecting and calling on them to act differently. Tell them that they need to get serious about making a deal, give them (the BCPSEA) the tools they need to do that,” he said. “The reason we’re coming to the MLAs is we want them to take action. They have the power to tell BCPSEA, the provincial employers, to take the concessions off the table.”

STA also has rallies planned for Jinny Sims and Garry Begg’s offices on Sept. 26, Westphal said.

Currently, Westphal said, the bargaining is on pause because they’re in the middle of mediation.

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Surrey teachers rally outside of Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains’ office Thursday afternoon (Sept. 19) to voice their concerns about the collective bargaining. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

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