Northwestern B.C. NDP MLA has had it with teachers’ strike

Robin Austin wants parents to pressure government to accept binding arbitration

Two weeks may be a reasonable length of time for a dispute between the teachers and the government to be worked out but Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin says enough is enough.

Austin is now calling on Terrace parents to express their support for teachers’ salaries to be competitive with other provinces and for the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) to have a say in how many students there should be in classes and in the level of assistance for students with special needs.

And he wants education minister Peter Fassbender to accept the proposal for binding arbitration which teachers massively supported in a vote held earlier this week.

Other alternatives, such as applying to the provincial Labour Relations Board (LRB) to open schools through essential services orders will take too long, said Austin.

“The LRB in the past has ruled on essential services by ruling that up to two weeks of missed school is acceptable ….. so maybe the LRB will be brought into make another ruling, but that could take several weeks so it doesn’t solve the problem of getting kids back in school,” said Austin.

Nor is Austin content to wait for the provincial government to convene the fall session of the legislature, which would most likely not happen until Oct. 6.

Austin argues that a solution reached in October though provincial legislation would mean an “unconscionable” delay of five weeks in re-opening schools.

“I think the real challenge here is the government has tried to spin this dispute as largely being about teachers’ salaries and benefits when in reality the big number in terms of what taxpayers have to invest has very little to do with teachers’ salaries and everything to do with class size and composition,” said Austin.

He added that the government’s strategy isn’t giving the teachers any room to realize their vision of public education.

“The government has put a clause onto the bargaining table called E80 which is asking the teachers to give up everything that they have won in the courts, which relate not to the individual teacher’s benefit but to whether we have better learning conditions for our children,” he said.

“We are in a situation here where there is no out for the teachers. The government seems to want to starve not only the BCTF into submission but also the individual teachers,” he continued. “It shows a complete disrespect not only for the profession but for what public education means for all of us as a public.”

Austin points the finger at the government’s low tax polices for creating a situation where money for public services is running dry.

“They are saying that we in British Columbia cannot afford to provide a high quality public eduction for our citizens, and I think people are starting to realize that while the government has gone on and on about the lowest corporate taxes in North America and lowest personal taxes, that at some point we need to connect the dots – if you have reduced taxes to that extent then you don’t have the ability to properly fund public services.”

Austin believes parents can express their support of teachers by backing their call for binding arbitration through letter writing to the government.

Binding arbitration means that the best offers from both sides are put on the table and an independent body decides in favour of one or the other.