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As the school year ends, B.C. teachers' labour dispute drags on

Parent Eric Carlson (stripes) coaches the Sentinel Secondary School Spartan rugby team in West Vancouver, British Columbia on May 3, 2012. Eric has stepped in to coach the team while the B.C teachers cut back circular activities.

Ben Nelms for The Globe and Mail/ben nelms The Globe and Mail

As the school year winds to a close, a labour dispute between B.C. teachers and the province continues.

Report cards – which were not being prepared during teachers' job action between September and March – have been filled out and are being sent home with students. And teachers have withdrawn from extracurricular activities across the province, sinking year-end concerts and camping trips.

On April 19, British Columbia Teachers' Federation members voted in favour of a provincewide withdrawal of extracurricular activities in protest against Bill 22, new education legislation passed in March. About 52 per cent of BCTF's 41,000 members voted on the plan; of those who voted, 73 per cent were in favour.

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The impact of the ban varies from school to school and district to district. In some instances, teachers have withdrawn from coaching but remain involved behind the scenes. Parents have stepped up to help run some events. Provincial golf and mountain-biking championships were cancelled but all other spring championships, including track and field, are slated to go ahead as planned.

More than half of the organizing committee for the boys' provincial rugby championship are retired teachers who are not affected by the current labour action, says Brian Lynch, president of the British Columbia Secondary Schools' Rugby Union. In addition, club league coaches and parents have stepped in to fill the gap left by teachers who have stopped coaching.

On the girls' rugby side, "we've probably lost about half of our schools," and are down to about 30 or 35 teams, said Brad Baker, president of the BC High School Girls Rugby Association. With only a month left in the season when teachers voted on the extracurricular ban, some teachers chose to keep coaching, he said.

Teachers who continue to take part in voluntary activities could be subject to disciplinary letters from the BCTF.

As part of Bill 22, Charles Jago was named mediator on March 28. Under the legislation, Dr. Jago is required to stay within the government's net-zero mandate, which requires new collective agreements to cost no more than the contracts they replace.

Almost as soon as he was appointed, the BCTF objected to his qualifications and experience, which includes writing a 2006 report on education that the union maintains is aligned with the government's bargaining objectives. The BCTF asked the provincial Labour Relations Board to quash Dr. Jago's appointment. The government said the LRB lacked jurisdiction.

On May 2, the LRB agreed, clearing the way for mediation sessions to take place. The BCTF has said it may take the matter to court. In the meantime, Dr. Jago has until June 30 to make non-binding recommendations.

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BCTF president Susan Lambert has said teachers will continue to resist the legislation next year. The union could challenge Bill 22 in court. Education Minister George Abbott has said he expects the bill – crafted in part in response to a 2011 court ruling that found parts of education legislation introduced in 2002 to be unconstitutional – could stand up to a legal challenge.

If mediation fails, the government is expected to impose a contract, likely before or around the beginning of the school term in September. The British Columbia Principals and Vice-Principals Association recently warned of "long-term and profound" negative effects if the dispute continues another year.

The BCTF maintains Bill 22 erodes teachers' bargaining rights and does not fix problems resulting from a decade of funding cuts.

The two sides are at odds over issues including wages and class size and composition. Since moving to provincewide bargaining in 1994, the two sides have only once come to a negotiated contract. That was in 2006, when a five-year deal featured a wage increase and a signing bonus.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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