June 19, 2012 4:27 pm

Union representing B.C. teachers is taking government back to court


VANCOUVER – The union representing 40,000 teachers in B.C. says it’s taking the provincial government back to court to seek a “fair remedy” for legislation ruled unconstitutional.

This most recent fight in the nearly decade-long conflict is over Bill 27 and Bill 28 – two laws introduced in 2002 but ruled unconstitutional by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin in April 2011.

Also at issue is the government’s response, known as Bill 22, to Griffin’s ruling.

In their application to the Supreme Court of B.C., teachers argue Bill 22 didn’t comply with Griffin’s orders, and they want bargaining provisions – deleted from their collective agreement by the bills – restored, as well as a declaration the government hasn’t addressed Griffin’s ruling and damages.

Complicating the issue, though, is the ongoing, months-long contract dispute between the two sides, which was also addressed by Bill 22, but remains unresolved and is currently hung up on the appointment of mediator Charles Jago.

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“We’re now in a round of collective bargaining where the prohibition on our right to bargain class size and composition remains, not withstanding a court decision to the contrary,” said Susan Lambert, president of the BC Teachers’ Federation.

“So we’re completely at a loss to understand how, within a democracy, when legislation is found to have violated our constitutional rights, the impact of the legislation is allowed to stand for a year and beyond into this round of bargaining.

“And so we are forced to take an application to court to implement the decision that came down over a year ago now.”

Almost immediately, the provincial government dismissed the court action.

“It’s government’s view that Bill 22 and the consultation leading up to the introduction of the legislation met the constitutional requirement set out in Madam Justice Griffin’s decision of April 2011,” said Scott Sutherland, a spokesman for the Ministry of Education.

“As the matter is now proceeding to the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment any further at this time.

Filed in the Supreme Court of B.C. Monday, the case will be heard over four days, starting Dec. 3, in Vancouver.

When it was introduced in 2002, Bill 27, called the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act, prohibited the inclusion of certain items, like staffing, class size and composition limits, in teacher collective agreements.

Bill 28, known as the Education Services Collective Agreement Act, amalgamated school districts and local bargaining units, imposing one collective agreement on teachers in newly amalgamated districts that had previously been covered by two or three local agreements.

The bills stood for nearly a decade until Griffin ruled in April 2011 that they violated teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

Griffin suspended parts of the legislation and gave the province a year to address the issue.

But only months later, in June 2011, the contract between teachers and the provincial government expired, and in September teachers began job action.

In October, the teachers’ federation headed back to court and asked Griffin to clarify her April 2011 ruling, but Griffin refused to clarify her comments.

Meantime, both sides remained deadlocked over contract talks, and in early March 2012 teachers walked off the job during a three-day strike.

In response, the Liberal-dominated legislature passed on March 15 Bill 22, banning further walkouts, forcing teachers to resume their normal duties, imposing a six-month “cooling-off” period, and sending the contract dispute to mediation.

The provincial government then appointed mediator Charles Jago, but the teachers opposed that appointment, arguing he was inexperienced and biased.

In fact, the teachers’ federation has argued that a 2006 report Jago wrote on the public education system was in tune with the Liberals’ position on the current teacher contract issues.

Jago’s appointment also ended up in court at the beginning of this month, but Justice Hope Hyslop has yet to make a ruling.

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