Find a better way to settle teachers’ dispute, urge Surrey school trustees

Trustee Laurie Larsen blames provincial government's approach for unsuccessful negotiations.

Surrey's Board of Education

Surrey's Board of Education

A Surrey school trustee wants the provincial government to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better way to negotiate an agreement with B.C. teachers.

“Obviously, this isn’t working. It’s just been so frustrating for everyone, the teachers, the parents, students, the trustees, admin,” said Trustee Laurie Larsen. “I feel that the government could have acted in a different way with different results.”

At a school board meeting Thursday, Larsen suggested that the Surrey Board of Education forward its concerns to the minister of education as soon as possible.

In a motion presented to fellow trustees, she asked that Education Minister George Abbott be “strongly urged” to “develop alternative approaches to dispute resolution given that the efforts to date have met with no success.”

She also wants the Surrey board to tell the minister to be more flexible so that a settlement can be reached prior to the end of June “so that this school year can be completed in a positive and productive manner and the 2012-13 school year can commence with a renewed commitment to shared support and respect for education.”

All but one of the trustees supported Larsen, although Trustees Shawn Wilson and Pam Glass were absent.

Trustee Reni Masi said he felt the motion was unnecessary and late and believes the mediation process should proceed.

“No matter what the mediator suggests or recommends, neither side has to follow it anyways,” Masi said. “It’s an attempt to bring the parties together. There doesn’t have to be a binding decision.”

B.C. teachers began job action last September, refusing to complete report cards and do administrative-type work. In March, teachers went on a three-day strike to protest Bill 22, which appointed a mediator and restricts any settlement to be within the “net zero” wage mandate.

The strike ended with a six-month cooling off period, during which time talks mediated by Dr. Charles Jago are to proceed.

Last month, the BCTF voted to continue its protest by barring teachers from participating in extracurricular activities, leading to the cancellation of some sports events, class trips and school club plans. The B.C. Public School Employers Association (BCPSEA) has since applied to the Labour Relations Board (LRB) to have the ban declared an illegal strike.

Meanwhile, the teachers’ federation has asked that the LRB remove Jago from the dispute, arguing he is biased.

Larsen didn’t hesitate to lay blame for the unsuccessful and antagonistic negotiations squarely at the feet of the provincial government.

“I think all the parties have to work together, but I think the government has to make the first move. The BCTF and all the unions have signed collective agreements and had things taken away from them,” said Larsen, who, as a City of Surrey employee, has bargained for 14 years on behalf of the CUPE local representing city workers. “I just want to see collective bargaining rights respected.”

Larsen said at the very least, the BCTF and province should agree on a mediator rather than one being government-appointed.

Abbott has previously said if mediation fails, the government will legislate a settlement.