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B.C. teachers begin pulling out of extracurricular activities

Teachers gather in Centennial Square in Victoria before making their way to the B.C. Legislature to have their voices heard, March 6, 2012.

Chad Hippolito/The Canadian Press/Chad Hippolito/The Canadian Press

As the British Columbia government pushed its controversial education bill closer to law, some teachers pushed back, vowing to stop performing extracurricular activities such as coaching sports teams or helping clubs that meet outside of regular class hours.

And that action, launched last week at several districts after teachers returned to work from a three-day walkout, could spread if the British Columbia Teachers' Federation backs the strategy as a way to fight Bill 22.

"The decision to withdraw voluntary support and activities and all the things for which we are not paid is a very difficult decision for teachers," Sooke Teachers' Association president Patrick Henry said on Monday. "But it's necessary to draw attention to the bill."

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Sooke teachers voted last week to withdraw extracurricular services, as did teachers in several other districts, including Kamloops and the South Okanagan.

Teachers there just started a two-week spring break, but decided before leaving to take a harder line on the "teach only" mandate of a job action that began last year, said Central Okanagan Teachers' Association president Alice Rees.

Teachers are taking such steps under Labour Relations Board guidelines that set out what work they can and cannot do in the first phase of a legal strike. Bill 22 would make strike and lockout activity illegal, at the risk of hefty fines. The British Columbia Teachers' Federation has said it will decide this week on further strike activity.

"They will have to look at what's legal and what's not legal," Ms. Rees said on Monday. "We will have to look at what we do very carefully, and I'm sure that's what the executives and lawyers are doing now."

Delta teachers have also voted to withdraw voluntary and extracurricular activities.

"Teachers are angry, frustrated and upset about Bill 22 – and they are reexamining everything they do," said Paul Steer, president of the Delta Teachers' Association.

The Liberal government on Monday set a deadline for passage of Bill 22, saying debate and votes must be wrapped up by Thursday afternoon.

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The bill, introduced last month, would impose a six-month cooling-off period and bring in a government-appointed mediator bound by the province's net-zero mandate, which requires new contracts to cost no more than the ones they replace.

The government and teachers have been at loggerheads for months over issues including wages and services for special-needs students. The new bill is in part a response to a court ruling last year that found parts of legislation introduced a decade ago to be unconstitutional.

As the BCTF holds out for a better deal, more than half of the province's unionized support staff have ratified an agreement that will see them tapping into the Learning Improvement Fund – a $165-million pot of money that is part of Bill 22.

The BCTF says the fund falls far short of what was removed through contract changes a decade ago and won't remedy problems in the system.

The fund provides $30-million this year for special-needs education. Support workers, led by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, have a tentative deal that gives them $7.5-million of that money to boost take-home pay for education assistants.

"There was something there to make things other than net zero," CUPE B.C. president Barry O'Neill said on Monday.

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He expects all of his members, including about 25,000 workers in the public school system, to ratify the two-year deal with no general wage increases because of the additional money for special-needs education. The union has signed a pact that gives it access to $7.5-million annually to pay for additional hours and training, and by last weekend, support staff in more than half of the school districts had ratified the deal.

Education Minister George Abbott has said he's looking at putting the savings from last week's three-day strike, estimated at more than $30-million, into topping up the fund, which would double the amount of money available this year.

John Horgan, the opposition House Leader, said he was disappointed with the limits on debate. The B.C. New Democratic Party has sought an amendment to the proposed legislation that would provide an independent mediator.

Instead, the government will allow night sittings for continued debate this week, but the law will be in place by Thursday, ensuring no more job action when classes resume after spring break on March 26.

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About the Authors
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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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