By Dean Midyette
On Thursday November 10th the Supreme Court of Canada announced a rare verbal ruling, concluding the legal disagreement between BC teachers and the governing Liberals that has lasted 14 years.
Lets be clear. This dispute was not about teachers salaries; they are under contract through June 2019. Nor is this about benefits or pensions or any of a number of other issues being erroneously tossed about on online forums and social media.
This is about one clear issue. Can an employer unilaterally change an employment agreement and impose it on the employees without the consent of said employees?
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a bill of rights that forms the first part of our Constitution. It identifies a number of Fundamental Freedoms and includes Freedom of Association and the right to bargain collectively. The court found that the province had violated teachers rights by breaching the right to bargain collectively and that the province had not bargained in good faith when it deleted collective agreement terms in an existing, legally binding contract. In short, the bill that was passed by the Liberals in 2002 was unconstitutional.
The changes the province illegally imposed on teachers had to do with class size and composition limits. During negotiations in the late 1990s teachers agreed to three years with no wage increases in return for these limits.
As a result of the illegal bill passed in 2002 the province was able to lay off over 4000 education professionals and over 200 schools have been closed.
Class sizes grew, support for special needs and non-English speaking students was eroded and teacher librarians became extinct. Estimates indicate that the province saved over $4 billion in money that should have been earmarked to educate our children.
Class size and composition limits are now set at 2001 levels. The government that took away teachers rights to bargain these limits and refused to address teachers concerns, even after it lost two BC Supreme Court cases, is now eager to sit down and negotiate. What a surprise.
Some will say that saving $4 billion in exchange for violating the rights of teachers was a good business decision. I call it a disgusting abuse of power.
Governments are elected to write laws but they also must follow the law. After being ordered by the BC Supreme Court in 2009 to put class size and composition language back into contract, the government brazenly defied that court order. Now that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled on the illegal actions that have affected a generation of children our provincial government has yet to apologize for their egregious actions.