Summer holidays may be here, but the chill from this year’s protracted labour dispute between teachers and their employer still hangs in the air.
Last week the two sides agreed to a tentative settlement. And while ballots from the ratification vote were still being counted when The Progress went to press, it seems likely it will succeed.
So what’s been accomplished?
Measured against their original bargaining position, teachers won’t be celebrating. They failed to secure the ambitious wage demands they were seeking, nor were they able to wrest control over class size and composition from school boards.
Their biggest victory was a “modest improvement” in contract language, and the avoidance of a government-imposed settlement.
That gain came with a cost, not just in public support, but support from some rank-and-file teachers who questioned their union’s aggressive demand for a wage increase that would never be accepted.
The Liberals, meanwhile, were able to hold firm on their insistence on a “net-zero” contract settlement. That’s something that may underline their resolve as they negotiate with the BCGEU, but the hard line has hardly captured the electorate. A recent Ipsos Reid poll puts the Liberals still 20 points behind the NDP in voter support.
It’s in that disparity that some cynics see the real motive behind last week’s surprise settlement.
The agreement was strategic, not tactical. Rather than achieve a framework for stability and growth, it delays the fight to another day.
The contract, if signed, will expire in June of next year. And if the polls remain unchanged, that means the teacher’s federation will be negotiating its next contract with the more labour friendly NDP.
That prospect will be something the Liberals will exploit in next year’s campaign. They’ll offer voters a choice: vote for the proven guardian of the public purse, or the potential lap dog to labour.
Lost in all this, of course, will be the students and their parents. True, they’ve gained some measure of certainty for the next school year. But the matter is far from settled; the dysfunction that has plagued the education system for decades is only delayed, not dealt with.