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UPDATED: Teachers begin 'administrative' job action Wednesday

Six weeks after taking their strike vote, the BC Teachers' Federation gave its 72-hour phase one job action notice today. It's the union's way of pushing back on what they see as a stalled contract negotiations with the provincial government.

Because of the Good Friday holiday, job action won't begin until April 23, and union president Jim Iker said students won't be affected: "Teachers will be in classrooms, continuing to teach. Also this first stage does not ask teachers to stop participating in voluntary activities or extracurriculars, and teachers will continue writing report cards and communicating with parents."

Instead, teachers will not supervise students outside of class time, leaving that duty to school administrators. Nor will they attend meetings with or engage in written or electronic communication with administrators. Teachers will arrive at school one hour before classes start and leave no later than one hour after they end.

Iker would not speculate on how long this phase will last, however he said the union will provide government with enough time to change its bargaining position. Although he emphasized teachers didn't want to get to this stage of job action, the second phase, if needed, will be rotating one-day teacher strikes on a weekly basis.

The union said there has been little change in government's bargaining tactics since the strike vote in early March.

"The government continues to demand concessions and ignore the BC Supreme Court ruling on class size, composition, and staffing levels," said Iker, referring to the two BC Supreme Court decisions, one in 2011 and the other in 2014, that found government acted unconstitutionally in 2002 when it removed teachers' ability to bargain their workplace conditions.

The union interprets the rulings as requiring government to return to 2002 class size and composition levels, which government says would cost over $1 billion.

Government, on the other hand, interprets the ruling as including class size and composition negotiations in the bargaining process, but has proposed class size and composition rules as stated in the School Act the remain the same, only opening it up to negotiation with teachers should the government change the class size and composition numbers outside of the bargaining table.* The union has interpreted this as government's refusal to negotiate class size and composition. Government has filed for appeal of the 2014 decision.

Iker said government, through the BC Public School Employers Association, is still trying to reach a 10-year deal with teachers, despite the union's repeated rejection of the idea. They have also tabled new salary proposals that mean another year without a pay increase, in addition to the past two years of stagnant teacher wages.

"Every province has gone through the good times, the not-so-good-times, and every province has actually found to put towards public education and to show that public education is important in their province," said Iker, who claims the province provides $1,000 per student less than the Canadian average for public education. Only Prince Edward Island's education budget is lower.

Iker said parents have nothing to worry about with regards to the job action's effect on students. He did say they should be worried about proposed budget cuts by school boards in order to balance their 2014/15 budgets.

"That's all about the underfunding," he said. "We're hoping that parents speak out for more funding, that our schools are funded to at least the national average or better."

*Article originally stated teachers were "not allowed" to bargain class size and composition. This was incorrect, rather the position proposed by the employer is to keep class sizes and composition the same.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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