As a strike continues into its third day in Saanich School District 63 (SD63) on Wednesday, Oct. 30, nearly 8,000 students are still not back to class across the 14 schools in the area. Frustrations are running high on all sides of this conflict for parents, provincial MLAs, the school district, support staff, teachers, and students.
Schools closed Monday as local Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE Local 441) stopped work to achieve pay parity with other local school districts.
In B.C. Legislature on the morning of Tuesday Oct. 29, MLA for North Saanich and the Islands Adam Olsen used Question Time to ask Provincial Minister of Education Rob Fleming what the pathway to resolving this labour dispute is. Olsen said it falls to the provincial government to provide quality public education and in this case, the quality of education is being affected by staff shortages and lower wages in SD63.
The provincial government insists CUPE Local 441 and SD63 negotiate within the terms set out by the Public Framework Agreement. SD63 Superintendent Dave Eberwein said this means his hands are effectively tied and the school district has done everything they can, perhaps even a little more, under the framework to settle with the union.
CUPE Local 441 President Dean Coates said this agreement doesn’t allow the needs of SD63 employees to be met because they started off on uneven footing more than 40 years ago. CUPE Local 441 settled for a then-acceptable wage increase to avoid members losing their jobs while the rest of the school districts in the province went on strike. Not participating in this collective action meant they missed out on higher wage increases, and that gap has only widened since.
Even though there will be two per cent wage increases for provincial school support staff each year for the next three years including 2019, support staff employed by SD63 still have lower wages than neighbouring districts. This has developed as a recruitment and retention issue in SD63 as educational assistants, secretaries, and other support staff leave the district for better pay.
Ultimately, if this pay disparity issue goes unresolved, Coates and Olsen both said this will only compound the problem, leaving remaining staff with more work for lower wages, and a lot of stress. This is passed on to students as burnt out teachers are less effective, and there are fewer staff to help teach and support kids identified with unique needs.
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