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Teachers can skip games, not meetings

Jun 16 2012

B.C. teachers are free to press their contract demands by withdrawing from volunteer activities such as coaching sports teams, leading field trips and attending graduation ceremonies, the Labour Relations Board ruled Friday.

But teachers are required to resume regular job duties that occur outside school hours such as parent-teacher interviews, kindergarten orientation and individual education plan meetings.

The board found that the B.C. Teachers' Federation went too far and declared an illegal strike in April by telling its members to withdraw from all activities that occur outside instructional hours - even those that are considered part of their required duties.

Teachers voted in April to withdraw from an array of activities in protest against the Education Improvement Act, which forced an end to teachers' job action and imposed a cooling-off period in their contract dispute with the government.

Teachers said the law attacked their professional and labour rights and further eroded classroom learning conditions.

Education Minister George Abbott issued a statement Friday saying it was wrong of the union to direct teachers to withdraw from their normal job duties, and he appreciates the board telling the union to cease and desist.

"However, the LRB also made clear it was within the union's right to urge their members to withdraw from voluntary extracurricular activities," Abbott said.

"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."

Union president Susan Lambert said the labour board's decision was useful because it clarified the distinction between voluntary and non-voluntary work.

She said teachers love coaching and doing extracurricular activities, but have been forced to pull out because the government refuses to negotiate a fair agreement with them.

"We want to get to a compromise which we can sign at the table," she said. "That's what we're trying to say as loudly as we can through this withdrawal of extracurricular activities."

Lambert agreed the move has the potential to harm the very students that teachers are fighting to help - vulnerable kids whose families may have neither the time nor money to put their kids in sports or arts programs outside school.

But, she said, teachers had to take a stand against ongoing education cuts that would hurt students far more than the loss of extracurricular activities.

"What do you do as a professional when you're trying to provide services to kids and you cannot meet their needs?" she asked.

"Do you just shut up and comply with government education policy, or do you, as a professional, say, 'No, I have to stand up for my kids?' Well, that's what we've done."

Lambert was unable to say whether the withdrawal from extracurricular activities would continue next year.

She said the union plans to meet in August and its decisions would depend on what the government does over the next two months.

The worst possible outcome would be if the government recalls the legislature this summer and imposes a contract on teachers, she said.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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