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Workload still in dispute: B.C. teachers

VICTORIA – B.C. teachers and their employer should stick to the streamlined bargaining system that produced their first-ever negotiated settlement last year, industrial inquiry commissioner Vince Ready says.

In his final report on the search for a new bargaining structure for public school teachers, Ready has recommended that a senior provincial government representative be added to the bargaining table along with an independent mediator. That step, along with signing bonuses and new legislation governing class size and special needs students, led to a five-year contract with teachers last June.

“Having just achieved such a singular success, I am reluctant to recommend a wholesale change in the process of collective bargaining,” Ready wrote. “Imposing solutions for collective bargaining which have worked in other jurisdictions may very well disturb the commitment of the parties which was evident during 2006.”

B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jinny Sims said she doesn’t have confidence that teacher bargaining will work again, because teachers are still coping with too many classes with four or more special needs students.

Teachers walked off the job in the fall of 2005 after being legislated back to work for the third time since provincial bargaining was established. A judge levied a $500,000 fine on the BCTF for defying a back-to-work order, and teachers ended their strike after two weeks, once the B.C. Liberal government promised to restrict class sizes through legislation.

Previously, a contract was imposed by the NDP government in 1998, and when it expired in 2002 and negotiators again bogged down over workload issues, the B.C. Liberal government imposed another contract, and also passed the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act, which took class size, workload and staffing ratios off the bargaining table.

Sims has asked for a meeting with Labour Minister Olga Ilich to talk about bargaining restrictions, which also now include essential services rules to keep schools open in the event of a strike.

This year’s class size survey found that only 85 classes in grades four to seven had more than 30 students, down from 648 in the 2005-06 school year. The number of classes with four or more special needs students declined by 1,400, to 9,000.

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