Friday, October 28, 2005

Government stirs the teachers’ pot with pay ploy

VICTORIA - It seems destructive for either side to come off a bitter illegal strike and immediately start poking at the other.
But that’s what Education Minister Shirley Bond has done in the days since the teachers’ strike ended.
Bond was quick to offer the news that she was considering keeping schools open through spring break, or into the summer, to make up time lost to the strike.
It could be a reasonable option, if there the time lost couldn’t be made up in less disruptive ways. But so far, school districts across the province have said they can manage without major disruptions to the existing schedule. Grade 12 students may needs some extra class time, and provincial exams could usefully be delayed, but extra school days aren’t needed.
Bond’s speculation just alarmed parents and angered teachers, who saw it as having more to do with punishing them than helping students.
Then things got worse. School districts were told not to ease the impact of 10 days of lost pay on teachers and opt for a punitive approach.
Many school districts were looking at ways of making sure the pay deductions didn’t inflict unnecessary hardship on teachers. Deducting the money in one month would mean a teacher would lose 50 per cent of her salary for that period, a big hit; spreading it over two months would mean a 25-per-cent cut in each month.
But a letter from education deputy minister Emery Dosdall to school superintendents seemed to rule out that flexibility.
“It is the expectation that all payroll adjustments will be made on the October payroll statements," he wrote. And as insurance, districts would have to send in monthly salary reports so the ministry could check up on them.
Bond bailed on the requirement quickly, in part because some districts - like Victoria - reminded her that they were the employers, and the ones who decide how to pay people.
All a misunderstanding, said Bond. "Let's be clear, we didn't insist. We simply laid out the process we expected school districts to consider.” (It is a rule of thumb that anytime anyone starts a sentence with ‘let’s be clear,’ things are about to get murkier.)
Except that when the ministry learned North Vancouver trustees planned to ignore the memo and spread the deductions out over two months, the district got a call from the ministry saying it expected to be obeyed.
Even if you accept the dubious claim that this was just some sort of idea the ministry was throwing out for school districts to think about, the principle remains the same.
Bond’s ministry had a chance to allow a solution that helped teachers and carried no real hardship for the government or school districts beyond some lost interest.
Instead it opted to try and force a punitive response. Successfully, in some cases. Vancouver school trustees deducted the pay in one chunk, based on what they saw as the ministry’s directive.
It’s difficult for both sides to let anger go after something like a strike.
But poking at the old wounds, or imposing unnecessary hardship on the other side is destructive.
And in this case, there is no time for that kind of pettiness.
The Education Round Table is supposed to setting a new co-operative tone; that’s not going to work unless both sides quit picking at it each other.
The BC Teachers’ Federation and the government will be back in some form of bargaining within months, since the imposed contract expires next June.
And the ministry is planning a substantial expansion of its role, taking on responsibility for areas like early learning and community libraries.
Managing all these changes is going to take co-operation, not more of the same old squabbles.
Footnote: The expanded ministry role is likely to be set out in legislation this spring. Dosdall told trustees last week that adding responsibilities like literacy to the ministry and expanding the role of schools as community centres demand a new look at the role of school boards, according to Penny Tees of the BC School Trustees’ Association.


Anonymous said...

Education Minister Shirley Bond’s ministry had a chance to allow a solution that helped teachers and carried no real hardship for the government or school districts beyond some lost interest. Instead it opted to try and force a punitive response.

35 bargaining sessions and nothing was settled... Mmm, I wonder why...

Anonymous said...

We should give unions whatever they want. Teachers were striking illegally. Who cares. Let’s ease the burden of them not showing up for work because that is, of course, the voters fault for electing a government that doesn’t bow to every union threat. The BCGEU is asking for 20% raises or they will strike and hold the public hostage. We better give them whatever they want unconditionally. I’m beginning to wonder what’s the point of electing a government if the unions can do whatever they want anyway. Do we even live in a democratic society anymore if a democratically elected government cannot make decisions that are in the best interests of the entire population without unelected groups holding the public hostage for their personal gain? But I guess we as taxpayers should just bend over and take it from the unions.