Opinion Column

B.C. Teachers, employer - lose the attitude 0

Bill Tieleman

By Bill Tieleman, News, Views, and Attitude – 24 hours

Children are taught how to get along in the classroom, but both sides in the schools dispute need some help to get along. 
(QMI AGENCY)

Children are taught how to get along in the classroom, but both sides in the schools dispute need some help to get along. (QMI AGENCY)

Any observer can tell that when it comes to the BC Liberal government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation there is almost no relationship, but plenty of attitude.

And both sides have lots of reasons why they don’t get along, whether you agree or disagree with them.

But unlike a constantly quarrelling couple who really should just split up and move on, the B.C. government and BCTF can’t get a divorce — ever.

So this shotgun wedding gone wrong desperately needs counselling, especially if we don’t want their bad relationship to affect the kids — in this case, B.C. students.

Fortunately, there’s a solution — one that has been around all along.

The B.C. Labour Relations Board has an innovative and effective program for dysfunctional collective bargaining partners.

“The Relationship Enhancement Program is intended for employers and unions who are experiencing difficulties in their ongoing relationship and who are interested in establishing and maintaining a more productive and positive relationship,” says the LRB’s website.

As a former LRB employee representative and ex-staffer at the B.C. Federation of Labour, I’ve seen some ugly, antagonistic union-management situations shift through this program into what’s known as a “mature bargaining relationship” where conflict is appropriately managed.

That doesn’t mean an end to strikes or lockouts, but it does mean that most often the union and employer will reach a new contract without a work stoppage — and that happens in about 97% of all negotiations in Canada.

But you can’t enhance the relationship in the middle of a dispute.

The government can start by agreeing to negotiate, not legislate. Teachers can’t accept an imposed contract that ignores all their concerns.

Both sides conclude a short-term contract, with a modest wage increase and additional funding for kids with special needs, after which they participate willingly in the Relationship Enhancement Program.

Given that each side has spent millions of dollars, teachers and staff have lost pay, students have missed class time, the government further damaged its reputation, and we appear no closer to an agreement, it’s time to give peace — and counselling — a chance.

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist. Read his blog at http://billtieleman.blogspot.ca Twitter: @BillTieleman

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