Teachers' federation says NDP trying to undo contract language on class size, composition

Teachers' federation says NDP trying to undo contract language on class size, composition

Teachers and the provincial government are back at the bargaining table to determine a new collective agreement and the B.C. Teachers' Federation says the province is trying to change contract language on class size and composition they fought to restore during a 14-year court battle.

The BCTF won a landmark decision on class size and composition in the Supreme Court of Canada in 2016. The legal dispute dated back to 2002, when the B.C. Liberal government used legislation to strip teachers of their right to bargain class size and composition. Now, according to BCTF president Glen Hansman, the NDP is trying to alter the language in the collective agreement that restored that right.

The current collective agreement between the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, which represents the province's 60 public boards of education, expires June 30.

Hansman said the employers tabled an initial proposal in April that would make class sizes larger in many provincial districts and "would remove each and every word of the class composition language."

Teachers 'alarmed'

He said the BCTF has seen proposals that "would take us backwards" and make massive cuts to teaching supports for students in school districts on Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.

"Our members were quite alarmed by that," Hansman told CBC's The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn.

Premier John Horgan said his government has no intention of diminishing class size and composition language and only wants to update it "to make sure it means something in 2019."

"Any efforts on class size and composition are to modernize language, not to take away the rights that were hard fought for," Horgan told CBC by phone while he was in France for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Horgan did not specify what the language changes would entail, saying he's not at the bargaining table, but said he's "confident that a collective agreement can be bargained."

"I fully understand the importance of this language," said Horgan. "I was with teachers on the picket lines during my time in opposition."

Moving backwards?

Hansman told CBC there are currently no standards for class size in Grades 4 to 12 in some school districts, such as West Vancouver and Prince George, and the BCTF would like that addressed in the new agreement.

According to Hansman, the employers' proposal seeks to replace the specific class-size language with district-level committees that would decide on class size and a deadlock would be broken by the superintendent. He said teachers need the certainty that class-size language ensures and the staffing that it creates.

"The restoration of our language meant 3,700 teaching jobs put back into the system," said Hansman. "So far, we've seen proposals that would take us backwards."

A poll conducted by Research Co. in the last week of May that surveyed 700 B.C. parents with a child enrolled in public school, found three in ten parents call their child's class size "too big," while 60 per cent say it is "about right." 

The poll's margin is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, nineteen times out of twenty.

The BCTF and the BCPSEA return to the bargaining table Monday.