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Thursday 30 May 2013

Times Colonist Editorial:Ten-year deal no path to peace

 Times Colonist - Ten-year deal no path to peace:
Far from creating 10 years of peace, Premier Christy Clark’s insistence on a longer-term contract with B.C.’s teachers guarantees four more years of bitter wrangling. 
In January, Clark said she would seek a 10-year labour deal with teachers in which salary increases would be indexed to increases received by other public-sector employees, calling it a framework that would bring a decade of stability to classrooms. Teachers would still have the right to strike, but not over wages.
Predictably, the plan was quickly dismissed by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation as an election ploy.
Meanwhile, the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers Association went to work figuring out a mutually acceptable structure for contract negotiations, and appeared to have developed a respectful atmosphere. The two sides were scheduled to sit down for more talks this week, but Clark has poked a stick into the hornets’ nest by resurrecting the idea of a long-term agreement with teachers.
The premier claims she has a mandate to pursue the 10-year deal, but it was not an election issue. The B.C. Liberals’ platform was focused on the economy, holding the line on taxes and paying down the debt. Besides, how can anyone say British Columbians voted for a particular plank in a platform? It’s just as likely they were voting against the New Democrats as they were for anything in particular offered by the Liberals.
Far from fostering peace, Clark’s plan will only anger teachers further. The government already wields the big club — the ability to legislate the teachers back to work — and imposing an unpalatable and unworkable framework on the negotiations won’t smooth the rough relationship between government and teachers. It’s disrespectful and heavy-handed.
The Liberals’ strengthened majority might give Clark new muscle in telling government what to do, but she can’t tell teachers how to think and feel.
A 10-year agreement would be bad for both sides. No one knows what the economy and the demographics will be like 10 years down the road.
One of the main reasons for periodic negotiations is to work out an agreement that takes into consideration changing conditions.
Clark is not wrong in wanting labour peace for B.C.’s schools. Others want it, too — that’s what motivated the school boards and teachers to work out a new and respectful approach to bargaining. It would not have created an instant Shangri-La in which everyone was happy and everyone had everything they wanted, but it was a step in the right direction.
Clark should leave well enough alone. There’s no shame in proposing a new plan. The shame is in clinging to that plan long after it’s obvious the plan is unworkable.
The relationship between government and teachers has been strained for many years. If Clark wants 10 years of labour peace — and it’s a commendable goal — she should seek to build a trustful, respectful relationship with teachers, one in which hard bargaining can take place without acrimony. That can’t happen if she unilaterally imposes new rules on the negotiating process.
It’s disturbing that the premier thinks she can put out the fire by throwing gasoline on it.

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