B.C. teachers balk at minister's report card demands

Report cards could be on the way to B.C. parents as soon as back to work legislation is passed in Victoria, according to Education Minister George Abbott — but the teachers' union has a different view.

Confusion over whether retroactive report cards would be issued

B.C. hopes it will pass legislation by the end of next week to end the contract dispute 2:19

Report cards could be on the way to B.C. parents as soon as back to work legislation is passed in Victoria, according to Education Minister George Abbott.

Abbott said Wednesday that Bill 22 stipulates teachers are required to give the evaluations.

But it’s not clear if the minister means that teachers will be expected to complete the report cards retro-actively.

"We will be encouraging schools, teachers, principals, vice-principals to make a priority post-spring break and probably post the passage of Bill 22 to getting report cards out to parents," Abbott said.

B.C. Teachers Federation President Susan Lambert told reporters in response that teachers won't be catching up on the past marks.

Lambert said that would negate the purpose of their job action.

"[Parents] will be receiving the next set of marks, on the next report card from whenever the legislation makes us come off of our job action — from then onward," she said.

Teachers have refused to fill out report cards since their limited job action began last September.

Stike action to be outlawed

Earlier Thursday, Abbott said that any future strike action by the province's 41,000 teachers will likely be outlawed before they vote to walk out again.

Teachers and students were back in their classrooms on Thursday following a three-day strike, and the B.C. Teachers' Federation had originally scheduled another strike vote for Friday.

But on Thursday morning the federation announced the vote was postponed for 10 days to coincide with its annual general meeting.

Then later Thursday morning, the education minister said that he expected Bill 22, the government's back-to-work legislation, would be passed by the end of next week, before the teachers' next strike vote, and before the house adjourns for a 10-day spring break.

Students in B.C. return to class on Thursday morning following a three-day teachers' strike. (CP)

"My personal hope is that all of this can be resolved by the time the house rises next Thursday," said Abbott.

The provincial legislature is still debating the bill which will suspend all teachers’ job actions, impose a cooling-off period and set stiff fines for any illegal strike.

But despite the importance of the issues, government house leader Rich Coleman said the government has no plans to ram the legislation through and has not scheduled any evening or weekend sittings.

"We have said all along they have a legal right to their job action, that we're not going to bring down the hammer just based on the job action," Coleman said Wednesday.

Legal strike action limited

The Labour Relations Board has ruled the teachers can legally strike one day a week until the government passes its back-to-work legislation, but they must give 48-hour notice. Any other strike action would result in heavy fines for both teachers and B.C. Teachers' Federation leaders.

In the meantime, the teachers will continue their phase-one job action, which includes not completing report cards, not meeting with administrators, and not supervising recess.

Government house leader Rich Coleman says no special sittings have been scheduled to pass Bill 22, which would prevent further job action by teachers. (CBC)

The questions the teachers could vote on have yet to be publicly released, but they have a wide range of options open to them, ranging from a full-scale strike to work-to-rule job action.

The NDP has said it plans to extend the debate to delay the passage of the legislation, which could extend the teachers' legal right to strike for a week or more.

Premier Christy Clark is taking a harder line on the teachers’ job action and on the Opposition NDP's response to it.

"The NDP need to decide if they want to get kids back into classrooms. If they decide that, they could pass it today," Clark said.

But opposition house leader John Horgan said they are ready to keep up the political scrap into next week.

"She wants a fight," said Horgan. "She wants a fight particularly with teachers."

No contract since June

The teachers have been without a contract since June and began job action in September, primarily by refusing to fill out report cards. Key issues in the contract dispute include wage increases, class sizes and support for special needs students.

The government insists on a net-zero contract, meaning no increase in spending on the contract, similar to deals struck with other public sector union in the province.

The government pulled the plug on contract negotiations between the B.C. School Employers Association and the B.C. Teachers' Federation after a year of bargaining yielded virtually no progress on the major issues.

With files from the CBC's Jeff Davies and Stephen Smart