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Teachers, employers declare LRB ruling a victory

*Updated at 6:15, June 15.

Just over a month after the BC Public School Employers' Association (BCPSEA) asked the BC Labour Relations Board (LRB) to put an end to the teachers' extra-curricular strike, the LRB has given a little something to both sides.

In a ruling issued late this morning, LRB Vice-Chair Ritu Mahil declared the teachers' refusal to perform extracurricular activities is within their right for activities not related to "courses or undertaken for marks." These include, coaching, school graduation ceremonies, and supervising student performances, sports team activities, field trips, or clubs.

But the ruling did find the BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF) has been remiss in directing or authorizing teachers from withdrawing from work activities that fall outside of regular classroom time like parent-teacher meetings and Individual Education Plan meetings, as well as Ministry of Education initiatives like kindergarten orientation.

In a press release issued by the BCTF, President Susan Lambert declared the ruling "a significant legal victory."

"It clarifies the distinction between voluntary and non-voluntary work, and it reaffirms that the countless hours that teachers devote to extra-curricular activities with students truly are voluntary. We've always known that, but it's excellent to have it confirmed by the Labour Relations Board," reads her statement in the release.

"Public education in BC has become over-reliant on the goodwill of teachers and, despite a decade of underfunding and attacks on our rights, we have kept on digging deeper and giving more in order to hold the system together. Now the employer has taken us to the LRB in an attempt to compel goodwill and force volunteerism. It's as if they are intentionally trying to shred the relationship."

The release adds the BCTF will promptly inform their members of the ruling on participating in meetings Mahil declared necessary and a part of teachers' work.

On the other hand, a release from BCPSEA declares victory for the employers, too: "We are pleased that the LRB has found in favour of the BCPSEA application and declared that the BCTF engaged in an illegal strike by directing its members to withdraw from those activities that are part of a teacher’s normal work," reads the release.

In an interview with The Tyee, BCPSEA Chair Mel Joy says she welcomes Mahil's ruling, saying the intention of going before the LRB was not to force teachers to go on field trips or coach after school sports.

"Our concern from our organization's point of view was that the BCTF shouldn't have been saying collectively that they shouldn't be participating in extracurricular activities. So it wasn't so much that teachers can or cannot do that, we believe that it's their choice. So we appreciate having clarification on that," Joy told The Tyee.

Mahil further ruled teachers' weren't engaging in illegal activity by minimizing their meetings with administrative officers. Joy says BCPSEA may ask for clarification on that ruling in the future.

"If the members are being directed that they can minimally participate in meetings with administrative officers, what does that mean? What does minimally participate mean? Does that mean they just show up and not do anything in the meetings? What do we, as employers, have the ability to do in directing our employees to participate in meetings?" asks Joy.

*Education Minister George Abbott weighed in with an emailed statement later in the day, recognizing that both the teachers' union and the government won something from the decision: "We respect and appreciate today’s decision from the vice-chair of the Labour Relations Board. The LRB found the BCTF engaged in an unlawful strike. It was wrong for the BCTF to direct teachers not to perform their normal job duties and the LRB has directed the union to cease and desist. The direction is focused on the withdrawal of work duties, not the withdrawal from voluntary extracurricular activities," reads Abbott's statement.

"However, the LRB also made clear it was within the Union’s right to urge their members to withdraw from voluntary extracurricular activities. I’ve always said it is up to individual teachers to decide whether to volunteer. All British Columbians should be free to volunteer in their communities. I hope that all teachers who continue to give of their own time to help children will be able to do so without fear of union retribution."

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

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