VICTORIA – The government is honouring another four of its New Era commitments with changes to labour legislation that protect the public and restore flexibility and democratic rights to the workplace, Minister of Skills Development and Labour Graham Bruce said today.
Bill 18, the skills development and labour statutes amendment act, restores education as an essential service under the Labour Relations Code.
"This legislation restores the essential service designation for education that was removed by the previous government in 1993," Bruce said. "Fundamentally, it is about ensuring that no child's right to education takes a back seat to a labour dispute.
"No child's right to education should be denied during school strikes and lockouts. More than four million student days have been lost due to labour disputes in the past 10 years. Our children should not have to pay the price if teachers or school support staff and school boards are not able to resolve their differences."
The legislation maintains the right to engage in free collective bargaining, and teachers and support workers continue to have the right to strike. If a dispute threatens education programs, the minister of skills development and labour can direct the Labour Relations Board to designate school facilities or services as essential. The board will then determine the essential service levels that must be maintained.
Bill 18 also honours the government's 90-day commitments to restore workers' rights in three other key areas:
"These changes are aimed at fostering better working relationships, stimulating investment and job creation, and treating all workers fairly and equitably," said Bruce.
Restoring Education as an Essential Service
Bill 18 restores education as an essential service under the Labour Relations Code, as it was until 1993. It recognizes that education is the cornerstone of society.
The bill does this by including "the provision of educational programs to students and eligible children under the School Act" under Section 72 of the code.
If a labour dispute poses a threat to the delivery of education programs, the Labour Relations Board has the authority to designate services that would have to continue in the event of a strike or lockout. (See sidebar at end.)
What education services will be essential?
The LRB will have the authority to designate services as essential if their disruption would pose "an immediate and serious threat to the delivery of educational programs."
What is "an immediate and serious threat"?
While the board will decide, it is clear that education must come first, that learning must continue and that students must be able to complete their school year regardless of age or grade level.
Will it be business as usual if there is a school strike?
This will be up to the LRB. The LRB may authorize a reduction in some services if there is a strike or lockout.
How will teachers and other school employees bargain if they cannot strike because their services are considered essential?
Bill 18 does not take away the right to strike by teachers or other school employees.
Other New Era promises kept by this act:
Sidebar: Essential Services in B.C.
Essential services must be continued in the event of a strike or lockout.
The process for determining what services are essential comes under Section 72 of the Labour Relations Code. Section 72 applies to services where a disruption may pose "a threat to the health, safety or welfare of the residents of British Columbia" or to "the provision of educational programs to students and eligible children under the School Act."
If a labour dispute threatens these services, the chair of the Labour Relations Board investigates and reports to the minister of skills development and labour.
If the minister believes the dispute poses a threat to the health, safety or welfare of the residents of British Columbia or the provision of educational programs, he or she can direct the LRB to designate services as essential to prevent immediate and serious disruption to these services.
The parties to the labour dispute will then try to work out what services are essential on their own. If they agree, the LRB will issue a consent order for essential services.
If the parties can't agree on essential services, the LRB will mediate or, if necessary, arbitrate the dispute and will issue an essential services order that sets out what services have to continue during any strike or lockout.
Visit the province's Web site at http://www.gov.bc.ca/ for online information and services.