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B.C. Labour Board awards Round 2 to teachers' union

Dec 21 2011

The B.C. Teachers' Federation won another victory yesterday in an ongoing labour dispute with government.

For the second time in less than a month, the B.C. Labour Board rejected an attempt to make teachers reimburse school districts for work they are not performing.

The teachers have been pressing their demands for a new contract since September by refusing to supervise on playgrounds, meet with principals or do report cards.

The B.C. Public School Employers' Association applied in October to have report cards declared an essential service, and to require the teachers' union to pay school boards for work that teachers have let slide.

The labour board rejected the application last month, and refused Tuesday to reconsider its position on reimbursement.

While that's a victory for the union, the labour board criticized as ineffective the current agreement between teachers and employers on what constitutes essential services.

"The approach adopted by the parties . . . simply has not worked," the board said. "It has not been balanced or effective in putting pressure on both parties."

BCTF president Susan Lambert said the ruling foreshadows an attempt by the employer to "change the ground rules" for teachers' job action and possibly apply the approach taken in the health sector.

Lambert questioned whether that would work.

She said some surgeries and procedures might be more urgent or essential than others: "But in teaching, all students have the same relative importance. So you can't really, in my view, differentiate one from another and determine that one is more essential than another.

"I don't think it applies, but I think our employer is going to try and see if that might happen."

Melanie Joy, who chairs the employers' association, also has concerns about applying the health-care model to teacher disputes. But she said some aspects might be applied.

She said the employers' board will meet in the next few days to decide its next move.

Joy expressed hope that the labour board's ruling will encourage the two sides to re-open discussions about essential services.

"At this point, if we don't go back and have that discussion we're stuck here," she said.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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