British Columbia

B.C. teachers vote to ratify new contract

Just 52 per cent of B.C. teachers turned out to vote on a new one-year contract offer, but 75 per cent of those who did voted in favour of the deal.

Just 52% of membership participate, but 75% of them vote in favour

BCTF President Susan Lambert announces the vote result in Vancouver Friday night. (Mychaylo Prystupa/CBC)

B.C. teachers have voted to ratify the tentative contract agreement between their union and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, the B.C Teachers' Federation says.

The BCTF said 75 per cent of teachers who voted favoured the new deal, reached Wednesday. But just 52 per cent of the membership voted, the union said. 

The deal will run until June 30, 2013 and gives teachers improved benefits and seniority provisions but no wage increases, in keeping with the government's zero wage hike policy for public-sector unions.

B.C. Teachers' Federation President Susan Lambert said Thursday the union was officially recommending ratification, but admitted the contract offer was agreed to under duress. 

Lambert said the government was preparing legislation that would have forced an unsatisfactory long-term agreement on teachers.

"After a long and difficult round of negotiations, we were compelled into this process under threat of huge fines and further punitive legislation," Lambert said in a written statement.

B.C.’s 41,000 teachers have been without a contract for more than a year and were engaged in an often acrimonious dispute with the government and the Employers' Association throughout the school year, including a three-day strike.

Education Minister George Abbott said he was very pleased with the results of the vote.

"Even more important, is the opportunity this provides us for a period of peace in the school system after what had been in many ways a fractious and difficult year for all parties," he said.

Abbott said he hopes to work together with the B.C. Teachers' Federation to build a better, more constructive relationship in the future.

The new contract runs until after the next provincial election in May 2013.

New court challenge

The union also launched a fresh court challenge this week alleging the province violated teachers' right to collective bargaining when it introduced back-to-work legislation earlier this year.

The dispute has largely focused on wages, with teachers initially asking for a 15-per-cent pay increase, although there have been other issues such as class size and composition.

Teachers overwhelmingly voted to strike last year to back their demands, but because of essential-services legislation, they aren't allowed to stage any job action, including a full-scale walkout, without the approval of the province's Labour Relations Board.

The teachers started the school year refusing to perform certain administrative duties, such as filling out report cards.

That continued until February, when the province revealed it was considering legislation to force teachers to return to their normal duties. The same week, a government-appointed fact finder released a report concluding there was little hope the two sides would reach a deal through negotiations.

The prospect of back-to-work legislation prompted teachers to return to the labour board to ask for permission to walk off the job. The board ruled teachers could walk out of classes for three days, which they did in March.

Shortly after, the legislature passed its controversial back-to-work legislation, which prevented teachers from walking off the job or staging any further job action, imposed a so-called cooling off period and appointed a mediator to broker a deal.

The legislation, Bill 22, required any new deal to comply with the province's no-wage-increase policy.

With files from The Canadian Press