EDITORIAL: Small steps to labour peace

When the Liberal government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation signed a short collective agreement in the summer of 2012

When the Liberal government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation signed a short collective agreement in the summer of 2012, nobody anticipated the same players would be back at the bargaining table 12 months later.

But here we are in 2013 with the re-elected B.C. Liberal government making drastic changes to how the bargaining process will go this time around.

Last week’s announcement by education minister Peter Fassbender to remove school trustees from the board of the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association could be a step in the right direction for both sides.

The minister’s claim that this will allow the union to negotiate directly with the government, as opposed to an intermediary whose hands are essentially tied, should give the teachers more clout at the bargaining table.

For whatever reason, whenever the BCTF goes through negotiations it’s a more tumultuous, public process than other unions in the province.

Having to go through a middleman – the BCPSEA – wasn’t working to anyone’s benefit, especially given that the government, which has the power to legislate teachers back to work or tear contracts, was using BCPSEA as a wall between them and the teachers.

This shift shows the province is taking a slightly softer and more direct approach to bargaining with the teachers, and that’s a good thing. But it’s likely motivated in some ways by their unprecedented move to seek a 10-year agreement with the teachers.

As it stands, there’s nothing in it for the BCTF to agree to such a lengthy contract. Ten years is an unbearably long time to be locked into a contract, especially when one considers the ups and downs of the Canadian economy we saw in the last decade.

If the government is trying a “we scratch your back, you scratch ours” approach to bargaining, it’s not going to work.

A more open bargaining process between both sides is a step in the right direction to hopefully long-term labour peace, but 10 years is too long.