Similkameen Elementary Secondary School teachers set up a picket line outside the school on May 28, part of a series of province wide rotating strikes staged by the province’s school districts. The strikes are meant to be a show of support by teachers to see the province and teachers union return to the bargaining table.
On Monday, May 26, parents of students from SESS were given a five page document posing questions and answers related to the strike action.
“We’re more concerned about class size and composition than with wages,” said Ian Johnson, one of the teachers on the picket line last Wednesday.
“Those rights were stripped away from us in 2002 and we’ve yet to see that issue settled.”
Johnson said wages were a secondary issue, noting that teachers have been working without a contract for a year, with no offers of retroactive pay, although the latest settlement offer issued by the province would have provided a $1,200 signing bonus. Johnson said the province has to give negotiators the ability to come to an agreement.
Following Wednesday’s rotating strike in District 53, an announcement was made early Thursday, May 29 by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation. The organization notified school districts it will continue rotating strikes around the province next week, as negotiations continue to settle their long-running dispute over pay and staffing levels.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender reiterated the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association latest offer of a $1,200 signing bonus and a six-year contract term, but indicated the union needs to modify its demands and stop strike action.
“I’m profoundly disappointed that while we’re still at the table, with all of the talk that’s been going on, that children and parents and communities are continuing to be held hostage and put in the middle of this dispute,” Fassbender said.
Earlier this week, the organization representing public school parent advisory councils called for an immediate end to the teacher strike and lockout out of concern for students and families.
BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (BCCPAC) president Terry Berting stated in a press release that the “feud” between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the government is having a detrimental effect on students, particularly those most vulnerable, and creating financial hardship for struggling families.
The parent group was also concerned about the cancellation of extra-curricular activities, end-of-year celebrations and sporting events in some schools, and was urging the government and the BCTF to concentrate their energies on achieving a new collective agreement.
“Successful outcomes for all students — not just those graduating from Grade 12 — are being affected by this labour dispute,” Berting stated. “This has got to stop.”
Parents are also encouraged to write to Education Minister Peter Fassbender and BCTF president Jim Iker explaining how the rotating strikes and lockout are affecting families.
Social media pages suggested a number of students in School District 53 would stage a walkout of their own on June 4, in protest of both sides behaviour in the dispute. The students see themselves as pawns, with the most to lose from the job action.
The schedule of one-day walkouts for this week will see Similkameen Elementary Secondary School staff walk out on Thursday, June 5.