The B.C. Labour Relations Board has supported a request from the B.C. Teachers Federation to create a team of labour troubleshooters to quickly act on COVID-19 health and safety issues between teachers, their employers and the Ministry of Education.
On Wednesday, BCTF president Teri Mooring sent a letter to all public school teachers explaining the BCLRB ruling.
Mooring said that while the ruling “does not address our concerns around the need for a broader mask policy, reduced classroom density to facilitate physical distancing, and other preventive measures,” it would help teachers’ efforts to enforce health and safety guidelines that are in place.
On Sept. 17 — a week after in-class learning resumed — BCTF lawyers asked the BCLRB to help improve communication between the teacher’s union and the B.C. Public School Employer’s Association to ensure Ministry of Education guidelines to keep students and teachers safe during COVID-19 were enacted.
In an excerpt, that BCTF letter read: “It is now mid-September 2020, just two weeks into the provincial government’s K-12 Education Restart Plan, and the BCTF and its local associations have heard from many members who have significant concerns about the inconsistent and inadequate implementation of government mandated health and safety measures which do not meet the protections promised in the spring and summer.”
The BCPSEA is responsible for hiring teachers and for enacting provincial health and safety guidelines in schools.
In her ruling released Wednesday, BCLRB chair Jacquie de Aguayo said that “neutral” labour troubleshooters would be available as of this Monday “to troubleshoot issues on an expedited basis, including evenings or weekends where necessary,”
De Aguayo wrote that the BCTF, BCPSEA or the Ministry of Education could request a troubleshooter, who would use an informal and collaborative approach to dealing with issues.
“In closing, I wish to recognize the high degree of collaboration shown by the named parties in the application before me,” she wrote.
“All of us are impacted by this pandemic, including the stress, anxiety and uncertainty it brings. I am grateful to BCPSEA, the BCTF and the Ministry for their ideas and their commitment to working co-operatively.”
Mooring said the BCLRB had also promised to “require the Ministry of Education to explain the rationale for changes to guidelines or standards and seek input before implementing those changes” and enhance the role of the Ministry of Education’s COVID-19 Steering Committee.
She said the union would continue to advocate for a more robust mask mandate in schools.
“Masks are an important layer of protection as physical distancing is not possible in many classes,” Mooring wrote to teachers.
“We have made our concerns to government clear that it is unacceptable to treat schools differently from other workplaces. A stronger mask mandate, or at minimum encouragement from the government and provincial health officer would help those schools that have had trouble creating a culture of mask wearing, including in classrooms.”
Mooring told teachers that she met with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Oct. 22 to discuss her concerns and a followup meeting with Office of the Provincial Health Officer doctors was being planned.
There have been more than 250 COVID-19 exposures and clusters reported in B.C. schools since in-class learning resumed and one outbreak.