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Billing teachers necessary to prevent lengthy strike: Peter Cameron

Chief negotiator for the BC Public School Employers’ Association says billing the teachers union for health benefit premiums for June is necessary to prevent another lengthy teachers strike like that of 2011/12.

That administrative teachers’ strike that saw teachers refusing to meet with administrators, take part in voluntary extra curricular activities, or write report cards. The job action lasted for six and a half months until government introduced The Education Improvement Act, forcing an end to the strike.

Employers' association negotiator Peter Cameron said it had a big impact on the education system overall.

“Basically it was six and a half months lost in terms of moving the [education] system forward with all the education reform and new curriculum stuff,” Cameron said.

He hopes to prevent that by applying pressure to the union with an estimated $5 million bill for teachers’ health and welfare benefits for June, and a cancellation of teacher pay for the June 27 administrative day.

If teachers’ bargaining positions don’t change soon, the employers’ association says they will send the union an invoice for the premiums and expect first payment on June 1.

If a deal is reached by the end of June, the employers’ association says they will repay the premiums cost to the union. If it isn’t, Cameron says billing could continue throughout the summer and into the fall until a deal between the two parties is reached.

The BC Teachers’ Federation says the current administrative job action doesn’t impact students because teachers are still in the classroom, still taking part in extra curricular activities, and still writing report cards. For their full reaction see this story.

But Cameron says refusing to meet with administrators is and continues to have an impact on students, saying teachers’ refusal to meet with administrators has an impact on how well administrators can run a school.

“That inevitably has consequences in terms of program delivery,” said Cameron.

“It might not be dramatic initially, but we have a document from the Delta Teachers’ Association saying people shouldn’t be planning any fieldtrips going forward because if the union moves into stage two, those field trips could happen on a day when they’re on their rotating strike days. So it’s best to be cautious and not plan any fieldtrips.”

Union president Jim Iker told The Tyee earlier today that the billing was both illegal and punitive, saying it violated the essential services agreement the two sides reached with the BC Labour Relations Board. He also added teachers were still taking students on fieldtrips, but that planning could be difficult if teachers move into rotating walkouts before the school year ends.

Cameron says the union may be talking about section 73 of the Labour Relations Code, which says when an essential services designation is in effect, the terms and conditions of the old collective agreement apply. This would include the employer paying for the premiums.

Because the essential services designation only covers supervision outside of class time, he doesn’t think the union’s argument will stand. But Cameron admits the Labour Relations Board hasn’t ruled on the billing of unions for premiums before, which falls under section 62 of the Labour Relations Code, and he expects the union to bring the issue to the board.

“Ordinarily in a strike there is an actual loss of income by the employees,” he said, adding the employers didn’t charge for May’s premiums as well because they want to give the union time to respond.

“We wanted to do something that’s responsive to the fact that there’s a strike on, but also something that provides an incentive for a settlement.”

Teachers and their employer are due back at the bargaining table next week, the beginning of month 15 of contract negotiations.

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

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