The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has reached a tentative agreement with the provincial government over their collective agreement language on classroom conditions, 15 years after the fight began.
The BCTF said Saturday’s agreement restores the collective agreement language that was “unconstitutionally” stripped in 2002 by then-Education Minister Christy Clark. Teachers recently won a court battle with the government over the language.
Saturday’s agreement was expected to occur after the Supreme Court’s decision in November.
“The tentative agreement, if ratified, will allow the next school year to start with thousands more teachers, smaller class sizes, better class composition, and specialist-teacher ratios,” said BCTF president Glen Hansman in a statement.
“B.C. teachers have been fighting for 15 years to defend our rights and to restore our working conditions. If ratified, this agreement will mean the beginning of a new chapter in public education in B.C., one in which teachers will once again have the time to give students the individual care and attention they need and deserve. School libraries and counselling offices will be re-opened, shop and lab classes will have safety standards restored, and all classrooms will be properly supported.”
Mike Bernier, minister of education, said the agreement is “great news” for students, schools and teachers.
“Student outcomes have improved dramatically over the past 15 years and are among the best in the world,” Bernier said in a statement. “We already have a word-leading education system. With this agreement, we can expect even greater results for our students in the years ahead.”
Bernier also thanked both the provincial government and the BCTF for the “significant effort and professionalism” it took to come to this agreement.
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The new agreement will be put forward to BCTF members for ratification next week.
The tentative agreement is in response to last year’s Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) ruling in the long-standing dispute between the BCTF and provincial government. The BCTF had asked the high court to reconsider the B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision that found the province did not violate teachers’ constitutional rights when it introduced Bill 22 in 2002. The bill temporarily limited teacher bargaining on class size and composition.
READ MORE: Weighing in on the recent BCTF court ruling
In November 2016, the SCC ruled from the bench 7-2 in favour of the BCTF about their collective bargaining rights. The decision meant the government had to restore staffing levels to pre-2002 levels.
At the time of the SCC’s decision, BCTF President Glen Hansman said, “this is going to make such a huge difference for the working conditions for our members and classroom conditions in B.C.’s schools.”
In January, the provincial government announced $50 million in funding for the 2016/2017 school year to hire 1,100 new teachers.
It is estimated the final decision could cost the government an extra $250 million to $300 million.
-With files from Paula Baker