A B.C. Supreme Court justice has decided not to fine the B.C. Teachers' Federation for its ongoing illegal strike action, but is imposing severe financial restrictions that include no more strike pay.
Madam Justice Brenda Brown had ruled on Sunday that the BCTF was in contempt of court, and she then directed the teachers to end their strike and return to the classroom,
Now, she has ruled that the union has breached that court order – and as a result she says the BCTF cannot pay its members to continue to defy the court order. Teachers have been receiving $50 a day strike pay.
The federation has also been ordered not to use its $14-million defence fund for advertising or to use its offices to organize or plan continued job action.
She is also appointing a monitor to ensure that the order is obeyed. The monitor will have full access to the BCTF's books and bank accounts.
The BCTF executive and their lawyers are reviewing the judge's ruling, and have not yet said what their next move will be.
However, federation president Jinny Sims does say Thursday's decision came as a surprise.
"I don't believe it was what other side expected, or what either side had gone in and argued for."
B.C. Public School Employers' Association lawyer Michael Hancock says the management group is "very pleased" with the ruling.
"We believe that the court has found a very innovative way of ensuring that the BCTF does not continue to finance or otherwise support the illegal job action."
Earlier, a lawyer for the BCPSEA had asked the court to impose a significant fine on the BCTF – that would escalate if the teachers continued their illegal job action.
Nazeer Mitha argued on Thursday morning that deterrence and the impact of the strike on the public should be taken into account in determining the size of the fine.
He provided the court with numerous examples of BCTF defiance, including public statements by Sims urging striking teachers to "stay the course."
He said a slap on the wrist would not be appropriate for this sort of "flagrant misconduct." But he said he wasn't asking the court to throw the union leadership in jail.
The strike, which began last Friday, has shut down classes for 600,000 students across the province.
Last year, the Hospital Employees' Union disobeyed a similar court order. That defiance cost the HEU a fine of $150,000.
On Wednesday, the Labour Relations Board rejected the union's appeal of last week's LRB order that teachers return to their regular classroom duties.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Shirley Bond says school boards will be allowed to keep the money being saved during the strike – a total of about $15 million a day.
Some teachers oppose strike
Some teachers are speaking out against their union's illegal strike, and some even crossed picket lines in various parts of the province Wednesday.
Phillip Milligan, a teacher-librarian at Seaquam Secondary School in North Delta, is still walking the picket line but isn't happy about it. He sees no way of winning this dispute and would like to get back to work.
"Jinny Sims has said repeatedly that we're going to stay out until the government is willing to talk. And I don't think the government is willing to talk and I don't think they have to talk to us," he says.
"We have a contract; that's what we wanted. It's no different from our previous contract and we now have to look to the future."
But many teachers walking the line still support their union. Tashi Papau, who teaches English at South Delta Secondary, thinks the illegal strike was the union's best option.
"I hope it doesn't affect me personally. I would imagine that things would have to get pretty ugly before individual teachers would have to suffer personal fines and jail time and other things that we've heard about," she says.
"I'm not super-concerned about the fines that are being imposed. We knew this was going to happen. And I'll stay strong and stay supportive of the BCTF."
Last week, the B.C.government extended the term of the teachers' contract agreement until next June, giving them no raise.
The BCTF had been seeking a 15 per cent wage increase over three years, as well as improved classroom conditions and smaller class sizes.