Post-secondary educators in British Columbia are taking their fight against the provincial government's controversial Bill 28 to the B.C. Supreme Court. At a news conference on April 3, representatives of the College Institute Educators' Association of B.C. and the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union charged the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it gives college presidents the right to ignore collective agreements which were negotiated in good faith.
"Faculty in B.C.'s colleges, university colleges, institutes and agencies are shocked and appalled at the government attempting to break contracts through Bill 28," said CIEA president Maureen Shaw. "We are offended that government believes itself to be above the law, and we are outraged the government has acted without regard for the long-standing labour relations laws and relationships in this province."
Bill 28 was rushed through the provincial legislature earlier this year and gives college administrators the right to override provisions in current collective agreements that limit class sizes and govern the use of on-line courses or distance learning.
In their statement of claim, the unions argue Bill 28 is unconstitutional because it contravenes both the rule of law and the Charter. They say the legislation violates guarantees of freedom of expression and association by revoking the rights of educators to bargain collectively on key issues.
"This bill discards important standards that protect the quality of post-secondary education, and casts aside long-standing processes for reaching fair collective agreements," said BCGEU president George Heyman. "We believe the Supreme Court will agree that this government has acted in a heavy-handed and anti-democratic manner that violates basic rights."
Jim Turk, executive director of CAUT, says the association will be seeking intervenor status in the charter challenge because of the national implications of Bill 28.
"This is an unprecedented action by a government that gives employers the right to tear up collective agreements they have signed," Turk said. "There has been outrage from faculty associations not only in B.C. but across Canada and around the world."
Faculty associations from the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Sweden have written to B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell denouncing Bill 28.
Turk also added that CAUT is filing a complaint with the International Labour Organization alleging the Campbell government has violated decades-old international conventions on freedom of association and protection of the right to organize, collective bargaining, and labour relations in the public sector.
In a letter to all college presidents in B.C. issued last month, CAUT warned it will advise instructors not to take jobs at any college that uses Bill 28 to violate its collective agreement.
"This will pose serious problems for those colleges because of the upcoming shortage of faculty," Turk said. "It will make it more difficult to recruit and retain qualified people."