B.C. teachers strike starts today
Strike leaves parents scrambling for child care
Parents and students in B.C. are gearing up for a three-day strike by the province's teachers.
The teachers are demanding a 15 per cent wage increase and improved benefits, but the government is refusing to budge from its commitment to negotiate public sector contracts that don't include cost increases.
A strike vote by teachers passed by 87 per cent and the union announced it would walk off the job Monday in accordance with a recent ruling by the Labour Relations Board allowing teachers to strike for three days this week and one day in each subsequent week.
Education Minister George Abbott says the ministry is working to support the province's school districts during the labour withdrawal.
"We are hoping all of this leads to what will be a respectful, mature, constructive way of proceeding over the next three days," he said Sunday. "I guess we'll see, but I hope we will all set good examples for the children that we serve in our conduct in the next three days."
The planned walkout has left many parents scrambling for child care.
School administrators are preparing to open their doors with skeleton staffing to watch over any students who do show up and recreation centres are calling in staff to run day camps — but many parents are trying to rearrange their work schedules.
Jason Harrison, a 43-year-old stay-at-home dad in Vancouver, was already expecting to be taking care of his preschooler next week.
He'll now be watching his other two children, in kindergarten and Grade 3, along with two of his friends' children he has agreed to take care of during the teachers' walkout.
Harrison said the small inconvenience facing parents is worth it if it means the provincial government starts listening to teachers.
"I think the province is taking a really hard line on it," said Harrison. "They've been decreasing funding to education for quite a while, which I'm not very happy with."
Teachers have been conducting job action since school started in September, refusing to do administrative tasks like filling out report cards.
Last week, a fact-finder concluded the two sides are still too far apart, despite a year of negotiations, to hope for a negotiated settlement.
On Tuesday, the province introduced legislation banning further strikes and forcing a six-month cooling-off period in the contract dispute.
The government's house leader has said he has no plans to rush the back-to-work bill and it probably won't be passed into law until after next week.
The B.C. Teachers Federation has characterized the government's back-to-work legislation as "bullying."
The level of provincial funding for education is just one of the points of contention in the education debate.
The provincial government argues education funding has increased, even as enrolment is decreasing. The latest budget includes an additional $165 million over three years to address classroom composition.
The teachers' federation, on the other hand, says education funding has not kept up with inflation, which the union argues is the same as a funding cut.
On Friday, hundreds of elementary and high school students staged their own walkout, leaving school early to rally in the pouring rain to support their teachers.