Message To Christy Clark – Accept Binding Arbitration With Teachers And Stop Hurting Students

The offer of binding arbitration has been brushed aside by the BC government. What else can the BCTF do to put an end to the dispute?

By Harinder Mahil

Members of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation this week voted overwhelmingly in favour of binding arbitration.

At a news conference held Wednesday night, BCTF President Jim Iker announced that 99.4 per cent of the union’s membership — that’s 30,490 out of 30,669 — voted yes to binding arbitration. That tosses the ball into the B.C. Liberals’ court, according to Mr. Iker.

“Unfortunately tonight, there is a single group of people standing in the way of our schools opening their doors tomorrow,” Mr. Iker said. “The BC Liberals’ refusal to accept binding arbitration is now the only reason children won’t be back in class.”

“Tomorrow morning, custodial staff could be pulling chairs off desks, teachers could be setting up their classrooms, school counsellors could be finalizing their timetables … and classes could start this week and our children could be learning,” he said.

It is the first time the union has proposed such a settlement method in its decades of combative history with B.C. governments.

The offer of binding arbitration has been brushed aside by the BC government. What else can the BCTF do to put an end to the dispute?

The government does not want to enter into meaningful negotiations with the teachers. Vince Reddy, the best mediator in Canada, has been unable to help both sides come to a settlement. The government has stated that it will not pass legislation to send teachers back to work. Thus the only option left is binding arbitration.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender has repeatedly rejected the idea of binding arbitration saying saying the only way the strike will be settled is through negotiations. On Wednesday, he reiterated that position.

The government states that it is unwilling to hand over any part of the dispute to a third party to resolve. If the teachers can agree to hand over the outstanding issues of wages and benefits to a third party, why can’t the government agree to do the same?

There is no doubt that there are serious issues in dispute between the union and the government. A thoughtful and reasonable solution requires compromise in negotiations. The government has been unwilling to compromise.

The teachers in B.C. are feeling completely disheartened and demoralized because the government does not value them.

The trigger for the current dispute is a unilateral blow to the collective bargaining process that occurred in 2002. That’s when Premier Christy Clark, who was then B.C.’s education minister, introduced legislation that stripped the union’s right to bargain class size and composition. B.C. Supreme Court has since ruled twice that the government’s actions were illegal.

My message to Premier Clark is: send the outstanding issues to binding arbitration as proposed by the BCTF and get our children back to school.

Harinder Mahil is a community activist and is a board member of the Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation.

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