Students being used as a bargaining chip

Teachers' decision to withdraw from extracurricular activities isn't putting students first

Throughout the long, drawn-out contract dispute between B.C.’s teachers and the province, one of the most oft-repeated cries from the BCTF was that the negotiations aren’t about money, but about protecting the education system for the students.

That argument falls a little flat in light of the BCTF’s refusal to negotiate under the government’s net-zero mandate and the salary requests they have put on the bargaining table. Negotiations on class size and composition do support their claim to be working in the interests of students, though those also benefit BCTF members.

All that changed this week as local teachers unions around the province announced that if Bill 22 passes — it should be in effect today — they will withdraw from any extracurricular activities.

The teachers say this is the only way they have left to put pressure on the government and bring attention to their plight. But, in effect, they are now holding the students to ransom — the same students who, last week, they said they were working in the interests of.

Many teachers put in countless hours of volunteer labour on these activities, which include sports, field trips, band trips and other activities. While the teachers’ right to withdraw from this kind of volunteer work can’t be questioned, their use of it as a bargaining tool, however, is very questionable.

Extracurricular activities are, by their very nature, outside of normal school functions; they are not a bargaining point in contract negotiations. But with this move, teachers are planning to deny students education-enriching experiences in an attempt to further their own position.

With the cooling off period imposed by Bill 22, it’s about time that both sides in this dispute settled down to some real negotiations, and that the teachers stopped trying to get public support by using the students.