The B.C. government will likely have to hire hundreds of teachers and spend between $250 million and $300 million more each year on education, after the dramatic win by B.C. teachers in the Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday.
Hansman said it could take some time to restore class sizes to pre-2002 levels because the union has lost the equivalent of 3,500 full-time positions over the past 15 years.
He said the provincial government has a $1-billion contingency in its budget, which specifically named the teachers’ case as a possible use for some of the money.
In Surrey alone, the restoration of the clauses would cost an estimated $40 million a year. Surrey represents about 10 per cent of the entire provincial education system.
In 2014, superintendents’ association estimated it would cost more than $1 billion a year to return to 2002 service levels.
“This is a government that has ridiculed, condemned, mocked and criticized the people on the other side of the bargaining. They ripped up a duly negotiated collective agreement and then, according to (the B.C. Supreme Court), used the power of the state to provoke labour action. … That is a stinging indictment of a government that is malicious and bent on making the relationship worse not better.”
“Every kid in 2002 who had special needs got no damn help for 14 years because of that government, that’s what it means,” she said. “All those little kids in kindergarten (then) have finished high school and never got the support they needed.”
The 2014 judgment called for the government to pay the teachers’ federation $2 million in damages for extending the unconstitutional legislation to June 2013. Thursday judgment said the province needn’t pay the damages.
No retroactive grievances can be filed because the 2014 teachers’ contract contained a $105-million fund to address any grievances arising from the deletion of the contract clauses.
The British Columbia government says it wants to start talks with teachers to implement a Supreme Court of Canada decision that requires it to negotiate parts of their collective agreement including the number of students in a classroom.
The province first imposed legislation that removed teachers’ ability to bargain class size and composition in 2002.
At a background briefing, government officials said the decision does not reopen the entire contract but it does restore the class-size and composition provisions that were deleted in 2002.
Similar to the previous legislation, it restricted school boards’ power to determine staffing levels and establish the size and composition of classes or how many teacher assistants can be hired per student in a school.
“It’s going to mean that there’s going to be … a whole bunch of teachers’ positions restored in B.C. schools, a lot more frontline services for kids in B.C. and much better work life for our members in a very tumultuous school year of change,” he said in an interview.
The Canadian Labour Congress:
“The Supreme Court of Canada has sent a strong message to governments across the country that they must respect the collective bargaining process and cannot act unilaterally in stripping collective agreement protections,” said CLC president Hassan Yussuff.
“Given how hostile this week’s US election outcome was to the interests of working people, it is gratifying to be reminded that Canada’s constitution enshrines the principles of good faith bargaining and the right to strike,” said Yussuff.
“This is also a crucial victory for parents and children, and is an excellent example of how unions like the BC Teachers’ Federation are standing for fairness and for a better public education system across the country,” he added.
It will be very interesting to see how this rolls out for teachers and other industries with collective agreements.