Teachers in Surrey on strike in Surrey in March.

LRB asked to declare teachers action an illegal strike

School employers group aims to strike down BCTF's ban on extracurricular activities

The province-wide edict of the B.C. Teachers Federation barring teachers from participating in extracurricular school activities should be declared an illegal strike, according to application to the Labour Relations Board.

The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association aims to strike down the job action on the grounds it violates provincial law.

Education Minister George Abbott said the move reflects concern about the impacts on students and parents of the activities ban, which is forcing the cancellation of some sports events, club activities and class trips.

“We’ve been hearing more and more about in some cases months and years that have been put together in preparation for a trip somewhere, for students to enjoy and to learn, and those have been lost,” Abbott said.

The BCTF voted to impose the ban on activities April 20, in the wake of a three-day strike in March that ended with the government legislating a six-month cooling off period, under which mediated talks are supposed to continue.

The BCPSEA application argues the BCTF has banned an overly broad range of duties that happen outside instructional hours – including ones that are required and not just voluntary – effectively taking away the individual choice of teachers.

“The concerted withdrawal of all of these teacher duties has negatively curtailed the services available to students and parents, both in relation to ongoing educational support and the continuation of extracurricular activities,” it says.

Union members are under pressure to comply or risk BCTF disciplinary action, including fines.

Meanwhile, the teachers federation is also before the LRB asking that it remove the government-appointed mediator Dr. Charles Jago from the dispute, on grounds he is biased.

“Mediation is ongoing,” Abbott said. “I have heard that the parties have met and that some constructive work has been underway.”

He said it was regrettable that the federation is trying to oust Jago without giving mediation more of a chance to work.

“I have not yet concluded that the inevitable outcome is a legislated solution,” he said. “I’d love to see a mediated solution here.”

Abbott said the main barrier is the BCTF’s refusal to accept the government’s required net-zero mandate barring any increase in the overall cost of a new contract.

The LRB hearing on the illegal strike application could be heard as early as Friday morning.

Abbott has previously said that if mediation fails the government will legislate a settlement, likely a two-year contract ending in June of 2013.

BCTF representatives were not yet available for comment.