February 23, 2012 - No. 23
Government Prepares Conditions for
Privatization and Assault on Public Workers
Government Act (Bill 20)
• Government Prepares Conditions for
Further Privatization and Assault on Public Workers - Donna
Petersen and Charles Boylan
• Community Health Workers Determined to Defend
Their Rights - Brian Sproule
• Support Malaspina Gardens Workers' Fight to
Stop Contracting Out! - Barbara Biley
• Interview - Kathleen Watson, Local
Union Chair, Malaspina
• Press Releases - Hospital
• Malaspina Gardens' Workers Coming Events
• New Assault on Teachers and Public Education
- Donna Petersen
• Teachers Want a Fair Deal - Susan
Lambert, BC Federationist
General for Local Government Act (Bill 20)
Government Prepares Conditions for Further
Assault on Public Workers
Some of the recent fights
taken up by British Columbians to defend public services. (CUPE)
On February 16, Bill 20, Auditor General for
Local Government Act, passed second reading in the British
Columbia Legislature in a vote of 41 to 32. The three-day debate
government members and the NDP opposition threw little light on the
purpose of the new law.
Premier Christie Clark first made an issue of promoting
such a bill in a speech to the BC Chamber of Commerce when she was
running for the Liberal Party leadership. The Canadian Federation of
Independent Business then expressed support for such an office. This
idea took further form when Clark announced
her "Families First Agenda/Review Municipal Taxation" saying:
"Our government will:
- Create an Office of the Municipal Auditor General
- Fund the office as part of the Auditor General's Office. The office
will provide advice on financial decisions and provide a measure of
- Review the municipal taxation formula
- Work with the Union of B.C. Municipalities to ensure municipalities
are properly funded and communities can provide the services British
Columbians want from local governments."
The last sentence is full of empty words, as
municipalities faced with ever more responsibilities downloaded on to
them, are pushed to increase property taxes while cutting services.
An important feature of Bill 20 is how ministerial power
is enhanced. The office is specifically not part of the Auditor
General's Office. The Auditor General for Local Government (AGLG) is to
be selected by the Minister, who will appoint an "Audit Council" of "no
fewer than 5 members" with the chair also
to be selected by the Minister. The Council will then set its own
remuneration and oversee the work of the AGLG. Start up cost is $2.6
million. The AGLG must submit any "proposed final report to the Audit
Council before finalizing."
When Ida Chong, Minister of Community, Sports and
Cultural Development first introduced Bill 20 on November 24, 2011, she
made comments that give a strong clue as to where the government
intends to go with this legislation.
She said, "The auditor general for local
government would conduct performance audits -- what we often refer to
as value-for-money audits --
on a number of local governments each year and make those results
public. The purpose of a performance audit is to review the economy, the efficiency and the
effectiveness of a local government's implementation of programs,
services and other activities. By creating an office of the
auditor general for local government, this bill is intended to support
local governments in their stewardship of community assets.
"The auditor general for local government would provide neutral professional advice about
how local governments can strengthen
their practices. The position would also provide another measure
of transparency and accountability
for taxpayers." (Emphasis added)
Chong repeated neoliberal
catchphrases that signal a forthcoming attack on public sector workers,
deemed "too high a cost," and to prepare conditions to privatize public
services in order to make them "more affordable."
Workers who have followed the debacle of this neoliberal
agenda in Britain, other European states, Latin America and right here
in Canada, including British Columbia, know this path is a recipe for
further unemployment, insecurity, reduction in services, attacks on
workers' rights and an increasing handover
of public assets to wealthy corporations. Bill 20 is more pay-the-rich
Around the time Clark made the proposal for an AGLG, Ken
Boessenkool was her campaign manager in her run for the Liberal
leadership. December 13, 2010 Public Eye On Line published
his email to Clark's campaign stating that the Prime Minister's Office
instructed paid staff of the national
Conservative federal campaign team to "refrain from taking formal
positions in the leadership campaigns for the BC Liberal Party." As
Boessenkool had a "senior role on the national Conservative campaign
team," he resigned as Clark's campaign manager saying, "I trust our
paths will cross again."
The "crossing paths again" occurred in mid-January 2012
when Premier Christie Clark announced that Boessenkool would become her
chief of staff for around $200,000 a year starting February 15, the day
Bill 20 was adopted in second reading.
The Harper-Boessenkool-Clark axis of neoliberal reaction
has serious repercussions for the working class of BC, especially
public sector workers at both the provincial and municipal levels.
As provincial public sector workers are now engaged in a
locked-horns "negotiation" with a Clark government insisting on a
zero-wage increase, it is important to remember that Boessenkool
together with Ben Eisen wrote a paper in January 2012 attacking the
wages of Alberta public sector workers. (See TML Daily, February 15, 2012 - No.
18.) Eisen, who
is frequently quoted in the monopoly-owned media, is a researcher and
publicist for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (FCPP) in
Winnipeg, a "think-tank" similar to the Fraser Institute.
Eisen played a role in launching a major attack on the wages, benefits
and pensions of federal public
sector workers just after Harper's May 2011 election.Thus, it is not
speculation to assert that the establishment of the AGLG under Bill 20
is part of the neoliberal assault on municipal workers and the services
they provide. One only has to witness the attacks by the Toronto Ford
regime on civic workers and public
services to grasp what is being planned for municipalities under the
A feature of the attacks by the federal and provincial
governments is to download the cost of programs onto municipalities
despite their narrow tax base. To exacerbate the crisis, provincial
governments are dictating ever more tightly how municipalities should
spend their money. Under the anarchic Canadian constitution (BNA Act 1867, renamed the Constitution Act, 1867
following the passage of the Constitution Act, 1982)
cities in Canada, despite being the places where most Canadians live,
have no juridical authority. The provinces have complete authority over
cities and dictate how they are governed.
Anticipating a further attack on municipal governments,
the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) released in July
2011 their Municipal Auditor General Context Paper pointing
out that municipalities in BC are already under strict provincial
authority and accountability. Municipalities
must have a five-year plan and limit expenditures to that plan. Local
governments cannot budget for a deficit, undertake long term borrowing
for operations and there are limits on aggregate liabilities and/or
debt servicing. Municipalities are externally audited and must provide
reports as required by Council, Board or
Inspector, or on an auditor's initiative. Many meetings are open. There
is financial and performance reporting, as well as specific expenditure
Local government also has third party oversight by an
Ombudsperson and Inspector of Municipalities (binding orders). If a
local government is not in compliance, the Council or Board can be
replaced by a Commissioner. In comparing the accountability systems of
the Province versus local government, the UBCM
Context Paper notes:
"The Provincial system relies more heavily on
performance measurement and performance auditing; but the local
government system is heavily reliant on statutory limitations imposed
by the Province, and Provincial oversight roles, including the
Inspector of Municipalities."
In other words, the provinces are less held to account
than the municipalities under present legislation. The only reason the
Clark government is spending $2.6 million to establish the AGLG is to
open an offensive against municipal workers and their unions and to
privatize public services even further, just as
the previous Campbell government did to attack hospital workers,
teachers and all other public sector workers and to promote
privatization throughout its neoliberal rule from 2001 to 2011.
Bill 20, the Auditor General for Local Government
Act, is a reactionary piece of legislation and the BC workers'
opposition should vigorously expose and oppose it.
Community Health Workers Determined to
Defend Their Rights
The contract covering
13,000 BC community health care workers expires March 31. An
association of unions that represents the 13,000 workers
includes the BC Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU),
Hospital Employees' Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers'
1518, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Health Sciences
Association of BC and the United
Union members are determined to defend their right to
wages commensurate with the important services they provide society.
Those workers include home support workers, care aids, housekeepers,
food service workers, licensed practical nurses, emergency shelter
workers, as well as administrative and clerical
More than 200 companies, associations and health
authorities employing the workers are represented by the Health
Employers Association of BC (HEABC). The HEABC negotiators are playing
a stalling game, refusing to make any proposals indicating that they
are waiting for a government imposed contract.
During the present two-year contract, the workers have
received no wage increase as the provincial Liberal government dictated
zero wage increases. Small improvements in the contract such as a
25-cent-an-hour premium for weekend work were accompanied by cuts
elsewhere such as to the medical plan. The provincial
government is presenting exactly the same scenario this time around.
A union official estimates
that the workers lost five per cent of their real wages to inflation
during the current contract. During the previous four-year contract
from 2006 to 2010, the workers received about two per cent a year in
wage increases plus a "signing bonus," which was not incorporated into
regular wages. The
contract before that saw the workers take a wage cut under the threat
that their jobs would be contracted out. The workers were also forced
to accept a two-year delay in the start-up of a negotiated pension plan.
The present negotiations are being conducted at a time
of privatization and cuts to public health care. In the past year,
several dozen group homes for "developmentally disabled adults" have
been closed and the long-term residents forced into foster homes. The
Harper government has set limits on transfer payments
to the provinces that will result in further erosion of public health
care and the increase of U.S.-style for-profit health care.
At the BCGEU bargaining conference in December 2011,
members identified wage increases, job security, benefits and
scheduling as their main contract priorities.
Health care workers in BC are determined not to be
driven further into impoverishment and demand the dignity of wages and
working conditions that reflect the necessary services they provide.
Support Malaspina Gardens Workers' Fight to
Stop Contracting Out!
Signs at rally to support
workers at Malaspina Gardens, February 3, 2012.
(Fight Contracting Out at Malaspina
Malaspina Gardens is a private seniors' residential care
facility in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. It is one of 14 residences in
BC owned by Chartwell Real Estate Investment Trust, a
Mississauga, Ontario-based company that owns and operates over 180
seniors' residences in Canada and the U.S.
Malaspina Gardens has been operating for more than 30
years. Chartwell acquired it along with other seniors' residences in
2005, when the company purchased CPAC (Care) Holdings Ltd.
Around the time of the Chartwell purchase in 2005, the
Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA), which provides funding to the
facility, promised to provide the new owners with money to upgrade the
residence. However, all the "new investments" made by VIHA in 2006 went
into new private, for-profit
residences in several communities on Vancouver Island.
The provincial Liberal government, while boasting of
providing 5,000 "new" beds for seniors gave rise to fewer than
5,000 total residential beds for seniors -- the lower cost and
lower-serviced "assisted living"-type beds. During this time, the
arranged with several different private contractors to
open new facilities while closing existing longstanding public
facilities. The government told the owners of Malaspina Gardens that
they would no longer receive any funds to upgrade.
In October 2011, Chartwell notified the Hospital
Employees' Union and the BC Nurses' Union that work at Malaspina
Gardens would be contracted out. The two unions represent Malaspina
Gardens' care staff including health care workers, licensed practical
nurses, activity workers, physiotherapist assistants, clerical and
maintenance workers and registered nurses.
Chartwell told the unions that contracting out was a
condition required by the VIHA in order to fund necessary upgrades. The
company in cahoots with the government plans to fire a seasoned and
stable workforce, some of whom have been there since the residence
opened more than
30 years ago. Altogether 177 people are affected, including all
unionized staff and all but two management staff. Those workers
receive BC-standard health care wages and benefits similar to those of
care staff in hospitals throughout BC. BC-standard wages, benefits and
working conditions fall under the provincial
agreement between the Facilities Bargaining Association (the unions)
and the Health Employers Association of British Columbia.
Although the existing collective agreements provide for
a period of "negotiations" to find alternatives to contracting out,
Chartwell did not appear to take the consultation phase seriously and
no arrangement with the unions was achieved. Layoff notices were issued
on January 3, with an effective date of
Malaspina Gardens' workers, residents and families have
been organizing to stop the layoffs right from the beginning and
several rallies have been held at the residence. The next is scheduled
for March 3, followed by a public meeting at Vancouver Island
University March 6, and another action March 27.
The workers, residents, families and many allies
throughout BC are determined to defend their loved ones' home, the
workers and the working and caring conditions at Malaspina Gardens and
reverse this anti-worker anti-social contracting out.
TML: Can you tell us what has happened
at Malaspina Gardens?
Kathleen Watson: Friday of the
Thanksgiving long weekend, the Hospital Employees' Union (HEU) received
a letter stating that Chartwell
Real Estate Investment Trust intended to outsource the care staff; in
other words, to contract
So we then had 60 days to negotiate with the employer --
in good faith. In that time the employer canceled four meetings.
In the end the employer said that the reason they were
contracting out was because they want to keep the building sustainable.
They have to save money and labour costs was one of the ways to do that.
On January 3, we got our actual layoff letters.
On February 3, the Local held an information rally in
front of Malaspina Gardens to give out information on seniors' care,
what's happening to seniors' care and draw attention to the contracting
out at the facility.
Workers, family members, people from the community and
even residents came out. Workers from Glacier View Lodge and St.
Joseph's in Comox travelled to attend, along with workers from
Travellers Lodge in Nanaimo, Nanaimo Hospital and other places.
HEU President Ken Robinson,
family council and seniors' advocate Kim Slater and local NDP MLA
Leonard Krog attended and spoke to the crowd.
We spoke to the Nanaimo and District Labour Council on
February 15 to get their support for our big rally set for March 27 at
2:00 pm. We are going to march from Malaspina Gardens to Swy-A-Lana
Lagoon and we're asking people to come and join our walk.
TML: Contracting out has been used at a
lot of Vancouver Island seniors' homes in the last few years. Is there
anything different about your situation?
KW: Every situation is unique in its own
way. We thought it couldn't happen here.
Our housekeeping, laundry and kitchen staff were
contracted out several years ago, shortly after Bill 29, and are
non-union still. [Bill 29 was the
2002 Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act. In 2007 the
Supreme Court ruled that sections of this bill restricting the right to
free collective bargaining contravened the right to freedom of
association in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- TML Ed. Note]
But the health care workers, activity aids,
physiotherapy assistants, clerical and maintenance workers and licensed
nurses, 154 in all,
have been continuing to earn the same wages as our sisters and brothers
That's because, unlike most care homes, HEU members in
direct resident care at Malaspina were part of the Facilities
Bargaining Association and not under a separate, independent collective
Now it does seem that independent residential facilities
-- private for-profit operations for the most part -- are definitely
on the contracting out hit list.
Acacia Ty Mawr Lodge in Shawnigan Lake, another
privately-owned facility, got slammed right after us. Forty people
there will lose their jobs.
TML: How many people are affected by the layoffs
at Malaspina Gardens?
KW: One hundred and seventy-seven people
-- the health care workers, activity aides, physiotherapist assistants,
clerical and maintenance workers and licensed practical nurses in HEU
registered nurses in the BCNU -- and some managerial positions. In fact
everyone, union and management, except for two managerial positions.
Of course, the residents are affected, too. In terms of
the resistance to the contracting out, the families are really
incredible. They even have their own Facebook group (Fight Contracting
Out at Malaspina Gardens) where you can join and they tell you what's
happening, who to get in contact with, where to write letters.
TML: Is Malaspina Gardens one of the new
KW: No, some of our workers have been
here over 30 years. I've been here 20 years. Lots of workers have
been here a long time and that's one of the reasons that families want
their loved ones here. They look at how long employees have worked
here. They take into consideration how
long people have worked there and they think it must be a good place.
The families have been writing letters, trying to make
the community aware, and when we have rallies and other activities,
they are right there.
We organize our actions and they support us, and they
organize their actions and we support them. The families' involvement
The work of family councils is really important. They
were instrumental in ending the contracting out at Nanaimo Seniors
Village. That contract was flipped four times. Four times all the
workers were laid off and some new workers hired, and the family
council there was huge in putting an end to that.
TML: Chartwell owns 14 residences in BC.
Is this happening in any of the others?
KW: Malaspina Gardens is the only
Chartwell residence on Vancouver Island and we are the only workers
under the facilities contract.
I know that at least one of Chartwell's other facilities
is unionized, Langley Gardens in the Lower Mainland. They are under an
TML: What do you want to accomplish with
KW: This contracting out has to stop.
Besides the rally on March 27, there will be a rally in
front of Malaspina Gardens on March 3. After the rally, we'll disperse
in groups and we're going to go out into the public and hand out flyers
to promote our next event, a public screening of the documentary film
on seniors' care in BC, The Remaining
The Remaining Light will be shown and then
there will be a panel discussion. That's on March 6 at Vancouver Island
University. There was a screening in Comox last year and it was very
well attended. And recently, at a showing in Parksville, the centre was
packed. We're hoping for a good turnout on March 6.
Unions representing 43,000 B.C. health care workers
[sat] down with employers and government to begin negotiations for a
collective agreement on February 6.
The Hospital Employees' Union (HEU) will lead the
Facilities Bargaining Association (FBA) in talks aimed at improving
working and caring conditions for a diverse range of workers.
HEU secretary-business manager Bonnie Pearson says that
health workers are seeking improvements to their contract so that they
do not fall further behind after a decade that saw the erosion of wages
and attacks on their job security. The unions are also looking to
improve health and safety measures in workplaces
that are the most dangerous in the province in terms of injury rates
and acts of violence.
Pearson says, "Our side is looking forward to getting
into some substantial discussion on issues that matter to our members
and that will contribute to a stronger health care system. And we will
challenge health employers and government to make a fair and reasonable
investment in those who deliver health care
to British Columbians under difficult circumstances."
The FBA represents the largest single group of B.C.
public sector workers heading to the table in the current round of
negotiations for contracts expiring March 31, 2012. The talks cover
health care workers in hospitals, residential care facilities and in
consolidated health services shared across multiple health
employers, as well as the B.C. Ambulance Service.
The diverse bargaining unit of more than 270 job
classifications includes care aides, licensed practical
nurses, ambulance paramedics, health
records staff, laboratory and other diagnostic specialists, sterile
supply technicians, emergency dispatch personnel, trades and
maintenance workers, activity aides and rehab assistants, IT
pharmacy technicians, admitting and booking clerks, administrative
staff, cleaning and dietary staff, and many others.
The HEU represents about 85 per cent of the members
covered by the talks. Another 14 per cent are represented by the
Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 873, the B.C. Government and
Service Employees' Union and International Union of Operating Engineers
Other FBA unions represent about one per cent of workers
covered by the talks. They are the International Union of Painters and
Allied Trades District Council 38; Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of
Canada Local 5; B.C. Nurses' Union; Construction and Specialized
Workers Union Local 1611; International Brotherhood
of Electrical Workers Local 230; United Association of Plumbers and
Pipefitters Local 324; United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of
America and United Steelworkers of America Local 9705.
The FBA is one of several public sector union groups
currently at the table negotiating agreements for more than 200,000
Malaspina Gardens' Workers Coming Events
Rally Against Contracting Out
Saturday, March 3 -- 11:00
Gardens, 388 Macleary St., Nanaimo
"The Remaining Light"
Tuesday, March 6 -- 6:30
Documentary and panel discussion on seniors' care in BC.
March and Rally
Tuesday, March 27, --
Walk from Malaspina Gardens through
downtown Nanaimo to Swy-a-Lana Lagoon on the waterfront where
there will be speeches, bands, food. Bring signs, banners and
Organized by: HEU,
residents and families
Support Malaspina Gardens' workers, residents and
defence of their rights to Canadian-standard wages, benefits,
working conditions, health care and seniors' residences! Attend the
rallies and events!
Livelihoods and Privatization of
Health and Seniors' Care!
New Assault on Teachers and Public Education
BC teachers rally against
back-to-work legislation outside the provincial legislature in 2005. (BC Indymedia)
On February 9, the BC government stepped up its attack
on kindergarten to grade 12 (K-12) teachers by appointing a "fact
finder" to see if a bargained solution to the present dispute in the
public K-12 education sector is possible. Assistant Deputy Labour
Minister Trevor Hughes will meet with the BC Teachers' Federation
Public School Employers' Association over a two-week period and provide
a report to Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid by February 23. The
provincial government feigns that it is representing the "public
interest" by acting to end a partial job action of teachers
ongoing since September and posturing as "concerned"
about providing public education to the province's youth.
That the "fact finder" is none other than the very
person at the negotiating table who has insisted that a settlement with
teachers must be based on a "net zero" wage increase shows that the
government has every intention of yet again legislating teachers back
to work and negating their collective bargaining rights.
The "net zero" wage settlement is a real decrease in
their standard of living, placing BC teachers far behind their
colleagues in Alberta, where working conditions and public
education are under attack and facing cutbacks.
Thus, far from representing the public interest,
government is pushing its neoliberal agenda of cutting social programs,
depoliticizing public interests and promoting private interests that
are steadily taking over education in BC. An ever larger proportion of
BC government funds are regularly allotted for private
K-12 education in the province as the politicization of private
interests continues apace in all sectors of the economy.
The "net-zero" neoliberal nonsense of the BC government
is an aspect of the overall agenda to cause turmoil in the public
sector, attack public sector workers as overpaid troublemakers, destroy
their trade unions and livelihoods, and privatize all that is "not
To paraphrase an article by Sandra L. Smith, "The
Politicizing of Private Interests, Depoliticizing of Public Interests
and Destruction of Public Assets," the BC legislature, as a
powerful institution of the state, is being used to
destroy the sovereign public institutions and ensure that the most
powerful private interests trump all other interests. The BC
legislature has been hijacked to enact legislation that favours private
not public interests. This can be characterized as the destruction of
the sovereign decision-making power as a result of the
politicization of private interests and depoliticizing of public
interests in BC.
The public interest with regard to education,
represented by the teachers, students, support workers, parents and
school boards has been stripped of political leverage. They have no
political authority to ensure the right to quality public education for
all, including special needs children, Indigenous youth, small
communities etc. nor how that right should be implemented and financed.
All authority over education budgets and the wages, benefits and
working conditions of teachers and other education workers who are the
human factor within the students' learning conditions has been
centralized in the provincial ministry
of education and its prerogative.
The teachers have organized
resistance against this ongoing trend to undermine public education. In
September 2011, 60 per cent of the provinces 41,000 teachers
participated in a vote for a BC Teachers' Federation proposed partial
strike. Ninety per cent -- 28,128 teachers -- said yes. Since
teachers have withdrawn from
certain administrative tasks including filling out report cards.
Teachers have been actively informing the public that
since 2002 over 200 schools have been closed with 3,700 fewer teaching
positions available than warranted by any decrease in enrolment. The
year 2002 saw the newly-elected Liberal government launch a savage
attack on the teachers' previous contract, especially
with regard to class room teaching conditions. In January 2002, Bills
27 and 28 were passed by then Education Minister, now BC
Premier, Christy Clark, which cut approximately $275 million in
education funding --
$331 million in today's dollars, according to the BCTF. They destroyed
the classroom working conditions
bargained by teachers over several decades thus increasing workloads,
cutting back special education workers, psychologists, speech
therapists, ESL programs etc.
Despite a BC Supreme Court ruling that Bills 27 and 28
were unconstitutional and gave the government until this year to
rectify the violation, the government says it is now "negotiating" with
the teachers by upholding and imposing all the cuts! In other words,
they are pushing the same politicization of private
interests, attacking a key social program, but are doing so
"constitutionally" by implementing the residual powers of the premier's
and ministers' offices, only now through the sham of "negotiations" and
Teachers are fighting to enhance education opportunities
for the children and youth. At the same time, they also need to raise
teachers' income, especially for the majority who live in the high cost
Lower Mainland area and many remote communities. BC teachers' salaries,
which have not been raised in real terms
for 20 years, lag behind their colleagues across the country.
Attacks on public education have been unfolding since
the late 1980s under the Social Credit government and continued through
the 1990s under the NDP governments. An important facet of the attack
on public education has been the shifting of provincial funds to
religious and private K-12 students, something
British Columbia had prohibited in the post-World War Two period, as
education came to be acknowledged especially in the 1960s period as a
key part of the social welfare state.
In 1987 a Royal Commission, headed by Barry Sullivan,
was created by the Social Credit government to justify the public
financing of private schools in BC. This was during the period when the
neoliberal agenda of finance capital headed by Margaret Thatcher and
Ronald Reagan was assaulting the social welfare
The NDP government of Michael Harcourt elected in 1990
enacted legislation recommended by the Sullivan Commission formalizing
the era of public financing of private education in BC. At the time,
both the BCTF and the Canadian Union of Public Employees-BC lobbied the
government strongly opposing this act and argued for a continuation
of public funding only for public schools. Since then the trend has
been to privatize an increasing amount of education.
All told, BC taxpayers spent just over $200 million in
2008-2009 to support 319 private schools, plus another $41 million to
private "distributed learning" schools and $25.4 million in special
education grants to qualifying students in Group 1 and Group 2 schools.
The BCTF says funding to private schools has
risen by 34 per cent while public-school funding has risen by just 13
Meanwhile public education has been under continuous
pressure from provincial governments since the 1990s to cut real
funding to education in a number of ways. One method is to increase
available money at a slower pace than the amount necessary to run the
schools. This is evident in the period from 2005
to 2011, which the government continually refers to as proof that it is
not starving public education. According to government figures,
available money went up during that period from $7,097 to $8,381
per-student. However, when the amount necessary to run the schools is
factored in, the operating grant per student
fell from $6,409 in 2005 to $6,289 in 2010-11.
Other statistical evidence is found in the falling
percentage of the provincial budget directed towards education. This
indicates the government's lower priority for education as public money
is shifted to other sectors. In 1991, education took 26 per cent of the
provincial budget; in 2000-01, it fell to 20 per cent,
and in 2010 to just 15 per cent.
It is within a context of
two decades of continuous cuts to one of the key social pillars in BC,
public K-12 education, that one can appreciate the efforts of the BCTF
to organize their resistance and partial strike. They face not only an
intransigent government that has politicized private interests
seeking to profit through an ongoing shift of public money from public
to private education, but also a highly monopolized media inciting
opinion against the teachers, and misinforming the public about their
resistance and the attacks on public education. In the course of the
teachers' struggle, however, parents in
some communities have mobilized themselves in support of the teachers
and their cause for increasing funding for education to ensure quality
education as a right for all BC citizens and residents.
The government's move to illegalize the teachers'
present partial strike with the appointment as a "fact finder" of the
very person in negotiations pushing the government's line of net-zero,
has no place in good faith bargaining as it has no connection with the
reality of BC's economy
and the general interests of society. It is simply a neoliberal concept
pulled out of the air to justify attacking teachers, public education
and all other public sector workers. The aim of the government is to
criminalize the main social force fighting for the public interest in
defending education. This underlines the need
for the rest of the public to take up the cause of the right to quality
education as their own and to support the teachers' just struggle for
more provincial government financing for education and the recognition
of their rights. A powerful workers' opposition to the government's
neoliberal attacks on public education
and its criminalizing of teachers and their union can guarantee
education as a right for all.
1. TML Weekly Information
Project, January 28, 2012 - No. 4
Teachers Want a Fair Deal
Jock Finlayson of the Business Council of BC doesn't
think BC teachers should get a salary increase that would help them
catch up, even a little, with teachers in other provinces. Finlayson
characterizes the BCTF salary proposal as a "substantial boost." Can a
proposal that calls for a cost of living increase, in
effect a salary freeze, in the first year be characterized as a
substantial boost? Government's net-zero policy means an equivalent cut
in pay. Should we then characterize the net zero government policy as a
substantial cut in pay for the province's teachers?
The BC Public School Employers' Association is at the
bargaining table offering nothing while demanding deep contract
concessions. Surely even Finlayson would concede that is no way to get
Statistics Canada reports that between 2000 to 2010,
where teachers took two net-zero years, public sector salaries in BC
rose by 16.9% while inflation increased by 19%. Teachers' salaries have
declined not only in relationship to colleagues across the country but
in terms of real purchasing power here at home.
Finlayson cites average salaries to assert that BC
teachers rank fourth in pay amongst the 10 provinces, but actual
salaries tell a different story.
Beginning teachers in Vancouver with five years of
university start $5,000 behind their counterparts in Regina and
Winnipeg, and $13,000 behind those in Calgary.
At the top of the salary scale, Victoria teachers with
five years of university earn $15,000 less than teachers in Toronto,
and $20,000 less than those in Lethbridge.
One-quarter of BC teachers
have masters degrees, and here again the wage gap is significant.
Experienced Vancouver teachers with a masters earn $13,000 less than
they would in Ottawa, and $17,000 less than in Edmonton.
Starting salaries for teachers in BC rank 8th or 9th
lowest out of the 10 provinces, depending on years of education, while
maximum salaries rank 6th to 8th lowest. Contrary to what Finlayson
states, these rankings do not include the Territories. Our assertion
that BC teachers rank 9th in Canada is an accurate
Finlayson further argues against a fair salary increase
because there is no teacher shortage in BC. But due to Liberal cuts
there are 3,500 fewer teaching positions and 15,000 classes over the
government's own class-size and composition limits; powerful indicators
of the shortage of teachers in classrooms.
In 1991-92 the Ministry of Education's budget was 26% of
the provincial budget. By 2009-10 it had shrunk to 15%. By contrast,
the Alberta government currently spends 30% of its provincial budget on
Since government illegally tore up teachers' collective
agreements in 2002, we have seen massive divestment from public
education in BC. Over $3 billion has been cut from the education budget
to pay for the 25% tax cut that so richly benefits Finlayson's Business
Finlayson also argues against a salary increase saying
that teachers enjoy good holidays and a well-funded pension plan. In
fact, teachers do not get paid over the summer and they do pay for
their pensions, contributing over 10% of salary from the very first day
BC teachers work on average 48 hours per week, which
adds up to an additional 10 weeks per school year. Many take summer
jobs to pay off student loans or to make ends meet for their families.
Thousands of teachers return to university during the summer to improve
their skills and better meet their students'
needs. Teachers also subsidize the system by spending thousands of
their own dollars on classroom supplies.
Despite a wage freeze for 2004 and 2005, followed by
modest increases in the last five years, BC teachers' salaries,
benefits, and working conditions have fallen far behind those of other
teachers across the country.
But BC teachers aren't asking to catch up to other
teachers across Canada in a year or even over three years. We're just
saying that it's time this government put resources back into public
schools, addressed the problems of class size and composition, and made
a fair offer to help teachers keep up with inflation
and catch up a bit with other teachers across the country.
It's time to invest a bit more in teachers and a lot
more in kids.
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