An appeal court ruled in favour of the B.C government against the teachers’ union on Thursday in a legal dispute over class size and competition that dates back to 2002.
Thursday morning’s ruling was made in response to an appeal filed by the B.C. Government back in February on an earlier decision that sided with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, which concluded that the government infringed on teachers’ collective bargaining rights.
It was a split result, with four justices affirming the decision and one dissenting the ruling that examined the constitutionality of removing the right to bargain class size and composition in legislation passed in 2002 and 2012.
“In our opinion, the legislation was constitutional,” read the ruling. “Between the consultations and the collective bargaining leading up to the legislation, teachers were afforded a meaningful process in which to advance their collective aspirations. Their freedom of association was respected.”
The ruling reversed two decisions that had previously gone in favour of the BCTF.
Reaction to the ruling was swift from both sides.
“After today’s quick analysis, it seems that this ruling swings the power too far against workers’ rights,” said Jim Iker, president of the BCTF. “A government should not be able to just dictate what they want, simply talk to the union, and force it by legislation when there are collective agreements in place.
“Collective bargaining needs to be about give and take… about respect and hard
negotiations between employers and employees. Collective bargaining – real collective bargaining – is not about pre-determined outcomes.”
He added the BCTF intends to take the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Peter Fassbender, the B.C. Education Minister, said he was pleased with the decision.
“Along with last year’s historic six-year agreement, today’s decision gives us a unique opportunity to work with teachers to improve outcomes for students,” he said in a statement. “Since 2002, we’ve seen dramatic improvements in student outcomes, particularly for students with special needs – and teachers should be very proud of this.
“Starting to move past this legal dispute allows everyone to focus on what matters most – working together to improve opportunities and outcomes for B.C. students.”
Responding for the Cranbrook and District Teachers’ Association, Shelley Balfour said she was upset with the court’s ruling.
“I am profoundly saddened for the students of British Columbia today,” Balfour said. “For a brief moment, I thought maybe they could catch a break and their learning conditions would improve and my members’ working conditions could be restored to a manageable level. The government has the money – they need to spend it on our education system.
“I am also extremely disappointed that the government now has even more power to undermine the rights of working people. Working and learning conditions were an integral part of our Collective Agreements and without them the students and educators are very negatively affected. I challenge the public to spend some time in a public school. It is definitely not like it used to be.”
Frank Lento, the SD5 board chair, notes that there are no winners in the dispute, which has been the result of unfortunate circumstances.
“Relationships have been injured, scarred and bruised during the past decade and a half and also with the recent labour negotiation that we got settled and hopefully it doesn’t continue to fester into hurt,” Lento said.
“We have an excellent working relationship with our local union. We have some good people here.”