Labour Relations – Public Sector Labour Relations Canada
Essay Preview: Labour Relations – Public Sector Labour Relations Canada
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I have chosen to examine the right to strike in the public sector. As noted in our Labour Relations text, “in some provinces, teachers are not allowed to strike. The question of whether teachers should be allowed to strike has been an election issue in some provinces. Supporters of a ban on teacher strikes contend that public education is an essential service. Those who say that teachers should be allowed to strike claim that public education is not an essential service. They admit that strikes may be inconvenient, but contend that public education is not in the same category as other essential services, such as medical care. They also argue that the alternative to a strike, arbitration, leads to higher costs. They point to cases in which arbitrators have ordered higher wage increases than have been budgeted for and claim that this has caused cuts in other areas, which have harmed students. Finally, they claim that a ban on teacher strikes would take away a fundamental freedom.” (Suffield & Gannon, 2016 p. 278)
There is also back-to-work legislation which “orders the strike or lockout to end, and usually provides for the terms of a new agreement to be determined by arbitration. In some cases, the legislation sets out the terms of work instead of providing for arbitration. Back-to-work legislation has been used in the public sector in cases where employees have the right to strike, but it is deemed that the continuation of a strike will impose excessive hardship on the public; for example, it has been used to end transit and teacher strikes.”(Suffield & Gannon, 2016 p. 251)
I am reminded my elementary and secondary school days in Kitimat BC, the teachers were allowed to strike and us school kids were crossing our fingers and praying to the gods of extended summer vacations, that they would. Our parents of course were agitated, and scared to death with the thought of having to find childcare for however long a strike might last. Everyone seemed to have their opinions. I can recall some parents saying that teachers were underpaid heroes raising our children, they deserved higher wages, better benefits and smaller class sizes. Other parents saw our teachers as a bunch of incompetent professionals who had the summer off work and put in a measly 9am to 3pm workday. Even students has their opinions. I remember a large group of high school students were planning to walk out of classes in support of the teachers. Another smaller group of school students were prepared to walk out of class pretending that they were in support of the teachers; but it would have been just a really easy way to play hookey.
It has been 30 years since BC teachers were granted the right to strike. My hometown of “Kitimat was the first school district to strike under the new legislation.” At that time, “180 teachers walk off the job for 10 days after an impasse in negotiations.” (Shaw, R., 2014, 4th para). In 2001 however, the “B.C. Liberal government passed essential service legislation, limiting teachers’ ability to strike.” (Shaw, R., 2014, 8th para). The question that this legislation brings up, is not only whether or not teaching is an essential service but is this legislation unconstitutional?
According to a CBC News article, the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF), and the provincial government have been in court for close to 15 years over class size. The Supreme Court of Canada has recently ended this dispute ruling in favour of the BCTF. (Zussman, R., 2016, 1st para) Apparently back in 2002, the government legislated a three-year labour deal for the BCTF that striped the union of class size, and even banned the union from negotiating class size and composition in future contacts. In 2005, in response to the government legislating another contract, freezing wages for 3 years, the teachers went on strike. After originally defying a labour relations board order to return to work, the BCTF voted and returned to work after two weeks of strike. In June 2006, a 5 year negotiated contract was signed. In 2010, the union went to the BC Supreme Court to argue against the 2002 legislation. In 2011, the BC Supreme court found in favour of the BCTF. (Zussman, R., 2016, para 2-6).
Just when the BCTF seemed to have a win, the BC government introduces bill 22 in April of 2012, which is subsequently ruled unconstitutional in 2014. At the time, Bill 22 “ bans further walkouts, forces teachers to resume their normal duties, imposes a six-month “cooling-off” period, and then sends the contract dispute to mediation.” (The Canadian Press, 2012, para 2) The ruling was quickly overturned in 2015 and the BCTF went to the Supreme Court of Canada to be heard. Finally in November 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada reinstates the 2014 B.C. Supreme Court decision. (Zussman, R., 2016, para 7-11) A couple of days ago, the “union issued a news release saying the two sides have agreed to restore contract language from a previous agreement that called for smaller class sizes.” (Zussman, R., 2017, para 3) This is obviously huge news, yet I remain sceptical on whether or not this agreement will hold up through the test of time. Looking at the past, it seems highly unlikely that both sides are finally on the same page.
BC is not the only province that has had issues with essential