Labour board defines teacher volunteer work

No end in sight for strike action, contract dispute

Teachers can skip the grad ceremonies and sports practices through the end of the year, but their presence at parent-teacher interviews and kindergarten orientations is non-negotiable.

Ritu Mahil, vice-chair of the B.C. Labour Relations Board, backed the B.C. Teachers’ Federation on Friday, when she ruled teachers are within their rights to withdraw from voluntary extracurricular activities such as coaching,  supervising field trips or overseeing school clubs.

Supporting part of the position of the Public School Employers’ Association that withdrawing from voluntary extracurricular activities is unlawful, the ruling said teachers can’t skip activities that are part of their regular work duties, such as school-based team meetings, individual education program meetings and parent-teacher interviews.

The labour board did find the BCTF had been engaged in aspects of an unlawful strike and issued a cease-and-desist order from withdrawing from their regular duties performed outside class hours.

Still, Tara Ehrcke, president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, considers the ruling a win for educators.

“I don’t think there have been any actual circumstances where anybody was trying to not do those things,” Ehrcke said.

“Voluntary work is indeed voluntary and teachers are free to volunteer for that work, or not to volunteer for that work.”

The GVTA will discuss their next course of action during a representative meeting this August.

Any action will depend on any decisions made over the summer by the Ministry of Education and ministry-appointed mediator Charles Jago, who has until June 30 to submit his recommendations.

Bill 22, legislation which imposes hefty fines for illegal striking, expires at the end of August, potentially placing parents, students, teachers and school administration back in the same position they were in last fall.

“We’ve been instructing teachers not to make commitments given that there’s some uncertainty in what situation we’ll be in, in September,” Ehrcke added.

“At this point we’re still calling on government for a fair and negotiated agreement. … In the event there’s an imposed settlement and it involves concessions, we’ll be looking at what further action we can take next school year.”

Ehrcke will be among teachers rallying outside the Ministry of Education office today (June 20) at 4 p.m.

The gathering is in support of public education and the board of education trustees in Cowichan who face possible termination after having submitted a deficit budget to the ministry in protest in May.

Even if an agreement to the contract negotiations for B.C.’s 41,000 teachers, which began in March 2011, is reached under Jago’s process this month, it will only remain in effect until June 2013 and the next round of bargaining will begin again next March.

“There’s no end in sight,” Ehrcke noted.

nnorth@saanichnews.com