Canada: teachers are victorious as bargaining rights acknowledged by Supreme Court


An article from Education International

After a hard-fought and divisive judicial battle, British Columbia’s educators are celebrating a Supreme Court decision that reaffirms collective bargaining rights and opens the door to the hiring of hundreds of teachers.All governments across Canada will now have to respect bargaining rights and collective agreements.

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The British Columbia (B.C.) government will likely have to hire hundreds of teachers and spend between $250 and $300 million CDN (roughly 170 to 205 million euros) more each year on education, after the Supreme Court of Canada overturned the B.C. Court of Appeal’s 2015 ruling in favour of the provincial government on 10 November. The decision restores the original decision in the union’s favour by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin. The financial estimate comes from Glen Hansman, President of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), affiliated to Education International’s member organisation the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), at the end of a union legal battle that began in 2002.

“Today’s win is a massive victory for our rights and vindication of all the years we have spent fighting the B.C. government’s unconstitutional legislation [that] allowed the B.C. government to underfund education” Hansman said. “Now, there is hope that those students coming up through the system will start to see classroom conditions and support levels improve,” and “for teachers that their teaching conditions will return to workable and fair levels.” 

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Question(s) related to this article:

The right to form and join trade unions, Is it being respected?

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This is the final step in a very long legal process, in which the BCTF has consistently argued that the governments’ actions in stripping teachers’ collective agreements and right to bargain in 2002, and their further refusal to address the situation, was unconstitutional. Canada’s highest court affirmed teachers’ bargaining rights and agreed with the arguments that the BCTF has been making since then Education Minister Christy Clark first stripped teachers’ collective agreements. 

“Kudos to the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) for its staunch commitment and determination to see justice prevail,” says CTF President Heather Smith. “This decision sends a message to any provincial/territorial government wishing to strip away teachers’ rights through legislation.”

BCTF pushes for immediate application of changes

The decision immediately restored clauses deleted from the teachers’ contract by the Liberal government in 2002 dealing with class size, the number of special needs students who can be in a class and the number of specialist teachers required in schools.

Hansman said it could take some time to restore class sizes to pre-2002 levels because the union has lost the equivalent of 3,500 full-time positions over the past 15 years, but highlighted that “the government should take immediate action to get those provisions back in effect so we can get back to a place where our teachers, schools, and students are properly funded and supported”.

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article)