Legal News

Teacher strike ends with limits to bargaining

The BC government completed the enactment of legislation today to end the long strike by teachers, legislate class sizes and place other limits on teacher bargaining. The Education Services Collective Agreement Act (Bill 27) imposes a three year collective agreement for all teachers.

The agreement contains wage increases and previously agreed to items, but a second statute, the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act, has effectively eliminated class size, class composition and teacher staffing provisions after the end of the current school year.

Provision also is made for a commission to inquire and make recommendations on practices and procedures for teacher bargaining. Other provisions make amendment of the collective agreement by agreement of the parties subject to approval by the Minister of Finance if it creates an obligation for government.

The terms of the agreement include:
• a 2.5% salary increase in each of three years commencing July 1 2001, and
• all previously agreed to amendments to the previous contract.

The content of this provincial collective agreement also will be substantially affected by the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act (Bill 28). By amending section 27 of the School Act effective July 1 of this year, it will prevent the teacher collective agreement from restricting or regulating
• class size and class composition
• case loads or teaching loads
• staffing levels or ratios, or the number of teachers employed by a board
• assignment of students to a class, course or program

In place of collective agreement class size and composition limits, the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act also adds school district-wide average class size limits and individual class size limits to the School Act:

Class Average Individual
Kindergarten 19 22
Grades 1 – 3 21 24
Grades 4 – 12 30 no limit

The average limits are one student fewer than the current individual class limits for kindergarten to grade three, but individual class limits will be increased by by two students. The amendments also will eliminate any present contractual reductions to these limits due to the inclusion of special needs students in a class.

By Regulation, the government will be able to specify dates by which these limits must be met, and require School Boards to report class sizes to the Minister of Education and the public. Exceptions to the specified class size limits may also be made by Regulation.

The Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act also will prevent legislative change clauses in various local teacher agreements from operating in connection with these amendments.

The Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act contains other amendments to the School Act that will prevent the teacher collective agreement from restricting the ability of a school board to implement a year-round schooling calendar.

The Education Services Collective Agreement Act authorizes the Minister of Education to appoint a commission to inquire into the structures, practices and procedures for teacher bargaining, and to make recommendations to the Minister. The Act will require the commission to consider the public interest in stable industrial relations in the public school system and a bargaining environment that:
• reduces the potential for disruption of educational programs
• does not interfere with any student’s access to quality education
• results in expeditious settlement.

Support staff collective agreements are also affected by the new legislation. The Act will allow the government to regulate certain aspects of the employment of special needs teacher assistants in order to ensure continuity in the assignment of special needs teachers assistants during during the school year and other. The Act also invalidates any restriction on the ability of a school board to contract out the provision of school meals under a program approved by the minister and funded at least in part by the government.

In addition, the Education Services Collective Agreement Act addresses nine amalgamated school districts where the former local agreements of more than one of the local teacher unions have continued in place. In those districts, one local agreement applies to all teachers in the district and the other or others have been eliminated as shown below.

Current District Applies Cancelled
5 (Southeast Kootenay) 2 (Cranbrook) 1 (Fernie)
6 (Rocky Mountain) 4 (Windermere) 3 (Kimberley) &
18 (Golden)
8 (Kootenay Lake) 7 (Nelson) 86 (Creston-Kaslo)
53 (Okanagan-Similkameen) 14 (Southern Okanagan) 16 (Keremeos)
58 (Nicola-Similkameen) 31 (Merrritt) 17 (Princeton)
79 (Cowichan Valley) 65 (Cowichan) 66 (Lake Cowichan)
82 (Coast Mountain) 88 (Terrace) 80 (Kitimat)
83 (N. Okanagan-Shuswap) 89 (Shuswap) 21 (Armstrong-Spallumcheen)
91 (Nechako Lakes) 56 (Nechako) 55 (Burns Lake)