Friday, September 18, 2020

BCTF Takes COVID related safety issues to the Labour Relations Board

BCTF President Teri Mooring has announced that
the Teachers' Federation will be taking their 
COVID related concerns to the British Columbia Labour Board

The latest exchange between the Province's teachers and the Provincial Government has taken the issue of school safety in times of COVID to the Labour Relations Board.

The BCTF filed its fourteen page application with the Labour Board this morning, citing Section 88 of the BC Labour Relations Code and what they called the serious and growing concerns that teachers have about the working and learning conditions in the public education system during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

In the preamble to the full application to the LRB, (which you can review here) the Teachers' Federation notes their concern over the inconsistent and inadequate implementation of Government mandated Health and Safety measures, which the Teachers say do no meet the protections promised in the Spring and summer.

Despite the BCTF urging the Ministry of Education to take the time necessary to develop and implement proper measures to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure, schools reopened after Labour Day without the full understanding and knowledge of how these measures would operate. Consequently, there is an extremely high level of confusion among the school Districts about basic safety measures that should have already been put in place. Standards differ between Districts and sometimes conflict with advice previously given or from other agencies.

BCTF members are reporting inadequate “layers of protection” and there is a broad concern that the Ministry of Education is not properly enforcing the required health and safety measures. Many Districts in turn have followed that pattern. BCPSEA is not providing clear directives to the District employers and nor is it directing adequate enforcement.

Teachers report that they are feeling pressured to work in unsafe conditions and are demanding significant changes to ensure they and their students are protected. The lack of clarity and constantly shifting messages from the government is exploiting teachers’ professionalism, their high expectations of themselves and their caring for students. Teachers want to provide the very best education possible under these pandemic conditions, but the health and safety concerns are only growing with each day that BCTF members spend at their worksites. The present labour relations framework, structured around the legalistic and formal grievance and arbitration process, is not suited for circumstances such as the one posed by COVID-19.

BCTF President Teri Mooring outlined why the Federation chose to go the route of the LRB today, providing further background to the decision as part of an information release today.

As part of our strategy, the Federation’s lawyers have been hard at work analyzing British Columbia’s legislative framework to see what we can do from a legal perspective to force changes. Today, the BCTF filed an application with the Labour Relations Board under Section 88 of the BC Labour Relations Code. 

It is a rarely used provision that we believe can compel the government into a labour relations process to address our many outstanding concerns. Our hope is to get the government to address the many communication, process, and health and safety problems of their restart plan. Critically, our application seeks to enhance the enforcement measures to ensure school districts take all possible actions to keep teachers and students safe. 

We have asked the Labour Relations Board to address our concerns and application as quickly as possible.

Ms. Mooring also released a copy of the correspondence that she forwarded to Education Minister Rob Fleming on September 14th, at that time she outlined three demands that the BCTF were making on the Province towards consistent measures.

Today the BCTF is demanding that you immediately rectify these disparities by enforcing consistent measures across the province as follows: 

Direct all school districts to provide every BCTF member a face shield. 

Direct all school districts to offer a remote learning option that is available to all students. 

Direct all school districts to provide dedicated staffing for remote option learning programs, rather than adding this work to the existing workload of classroom teachers.

Ms. Mooring's full correspondence can be reviewed below:

So far there has been no comment from the Education Minister, or the Premier over the latest escalation in what is becoming a growing gap between the province and its teachers over the handling of Back to School in times of COVID.

Further notes related to education in the Northwest can be explored here.

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