Public school teachers have voted 73 per cent to withdraw extracurricular activities province-wide to intensify pressure on the provincial government in the continuing labour dispute.
The vote of the B.C. Teachers Federation could affect everything from high school graduation ceremonies to upcoming sports events.
Meanwhile, a decision of B.C.’s Labour Relations Board has ordered unionized teachers to prepare second term report cards immediately, something some had resisted as part of job action.
The ruling gives teachers until April 27 to have them ready.
Public school teachers briefly went on a limited strike in March until the provincial government passed Bill 22, legislating them back to work with a six-month cooling off period.
A total of 21,625 teachers voted yes, while 7,846 voted no.
BCTF president Susan Lambert said the vote was an emotional one for teachers because cancelling extracurricular activities was a wrenching choice.
“Teachers struggle with this because these activities bring so much joy to our engagement with students,” she said. “We know this will mean the loss of some highly-valued activities, and we sincerely regret that. But we have to look at the bigger picture and the longer term.”
It’s expected to pit teachers who still want to coach teams and run student clubs in defiance of the BCTF decision against more militant teachers who will be able to ask their union locals to take disciplinary action.
Lambert said the vote “sends a powerful message to government” to rethink Bill 22, which the federation says weakens limits on class size and composition.
Education Minister George Abbott told reporters the BCTF vote to ban extracurricular activities will divide teachers, punish students and leave parents overseeing functions like grad ceremonies.
“My hope is that the BCTF will not take any opportunity to insert so-called moral suasion to keep teachers from volunteering,” Abbott said.
“It’s their personal decision. And I don’t believe it’s appropriate for the BCTF to be trying to interfere in that. This is going to be a big issue for them if they try to do that.”
Abbott also defended his choice of a mediator in the dispute, Dr. Charles Jago, who the BCTF alleges is biased.
“I could have asked the Dalai Lama,” Abbott said, adding he likely would have drawn the same complaints.
He said he hopes teachers sit down and negotiate through Jago.
If talks with the BCTF fail to reach a mediated settlement, Abbott said, the government would likely legislate a two-year contract, ending June 30, 2013.
Abbott said he can’t guarantee that the dispute won’t disrupt the start of the school year next fall.
The action plan approved by the BCTF membership also calls for a public awareness campaign to mobilize public opposition to Bill 22, a possible future vote on a full withdrawal of services and work in advance of the May 2013 election “to bring in a new government” that will repeal the legislation.