Editorial – Surprising turn of events

Tuesday's announcement of an agreement between teachers and employers came as a shock to many

The B.C. Teachers Federation has surprisingly agreed to an extension of a contract with the B.C. Public Schools Employers’ Association.

The announcement Tuesday evening caught many observers flat-flooted. It was widely assumed that the government would call the legislature into session over the summer to impose a contract on the two parties, as bargaining has been underway for more than a year with virtually no progress. A three-day strike, report card withdrawals, ban on extra-curricular activities and numerous court challenges have all been part of the landscape this year.

Education Minister George Abbott said that the movement by the two sides in the contract dispute occurred in recent days, with both sides giving up demands in exchange for a contract that will expire in a year.

In essence, the contract dispute has been put off until the provincial election, set for next May. It will be interesting to see if a contract can be reached in the six weeks between that election and the expiry of this latest contract, no matter which party forms government.

Neither side in this dispute has covered itself in glory. The BCTF, which claims to be non-partisan but in fact is as political as any political party, has sacrificed the best interests of students and parents to pursue the narrow self-interest of teachers.

Teachers refused to do report cards until ordered to do so by the Labour Relations Board. They have refused to meet with parents on many occasions. They have deprived students of activities which are an integral part of the learning experience.

They do have some legitimate concerns, in particular about class composition, but their demands for exorbitant wage increases and time off for the flimsiest of reasons did not bring the public on side.

The government, for its part, has let this dispute drag on for far too long.

Once again, it is students and parents who have paid a steep price for the horrible labour relations record involving the BCTF and the provincial government. In case some people have forgotten, the BCTF’s record in negotiating with past NDP governments wasn’t much better.

If there is a new government in May, as seems likely, it is no guarantee that labour relations involving the BCTF will improve. All that happened last week is this — the ball was kicked a little farther down the road.