Saanich school district strike reaches fifth day

Local News

Nearly 8 000 students away from class for whole week in 14 schools across Saanich

Photo via CUPE 441 Saanich School District Employees on Facebook

Across Saanich, 14 schools have closed their doors this week due to an ongoing labour dispute between the Saanich School District and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 441, the union representing over 500 teachers in addition to support and custodial workers. 

Nearly 8 000 students have been away from classes since Oct. 28, with wage parity cited by the union as one of the main issues for the strike — particularly for instructors with the same position in various school districts in the Capital Region District. 

For example, the union said in a Times Colonist article published earlier this week, an education assistant in Saanich — School District 63 — is paid $21.61 per hour under the previous agreement with the Saanich School District while a similar worker in School District 62 in Sooke is paid $25.28 per hour. 

After seven months at the bargaining table, the union gave a 72-hour strike notice on Oct. 23 and began striking Monday. 

“We have let the employer know that we are available around the clock to sit down and come to a settlement,” said CUPE 441 President Dean Coates in a statement published on CUPE 431’s webpage. “We are disappointed to be on strike, but we need to gain fairness for our members.”

The Saanich School District has insisted on addressing the wage disparity issue through a provincial bargaining mandate, the Provincial Framework Agreement

“Wage disparity is also an issue that affects many school districts across the Province in addition to Saanich, and therefore requires a provincial-level approach. Determining the degree of wage disparity is complicated by variation in job descriptions (duties and responsibilities) from district to district,” reads a press release. “For example, while it is known that wages vary for similar positions in other school districts, it has not yet been established to what degree the job duties and responsibilities vary.”. 

Specifically, the district cites clause seven — a rule that ensures the employer that bargaining issues are handled fairly and consistently throughout the province through a Job Evaluation (JE) committee. 

The roles of the JE committee, as outlined in the document, include identifying the job hierarchy for local job descriptions for all school districts and comparing the local job hierarchy to the set-benchmark hierarchy. 

The job action also comes in the wake of recent tension between CUPE and the University of Victoria bargaining team. 

In the summer, CUPE 4163 Component Three, a union overseeing about 800 continuing lecturers and sessional instructors, failed to reach an agreement after months of collective bargaining. There were fears on campus that the sessional instructors within CUPE 4163 — who perform roughly 60 per cent of the instruction at UVic — would strike and disrupt classes at the beginning of a new semester.

After talks broke down in the summer, Component Three launched a public campaign last month, running ads on BC Transit buses with advertisements that read “If we show you our faces, we could lose our jobs.” 

Similarly to CUPE 441, the two sides were deadlocked on wage issues. However, classes weren’t disrupted, and after months of collective bargaining the union reached an agreement with the university following two days of mediation. 

The Saanich school district wrote on their website they are in daily conversation with the Ministry of Education, but maintain the only way to resolve the dispute is for the parties to talk at the bargaining table and work under the provincial mandate. 

“We understand how frustrating this is for parents and kids and we want to work successfully with both parties,” said B.C.’s education minister, Rob Fleming in an interview with CTV News Vancouver Island.

“We have settled 53 agreements with support staff unions across B.C., so there is stability and certainty for kids in almost every school district around British Columbia.” 

On Wednesday, CUPE 441 received support from the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, and late Thursday night confirmed that schools in Saanich would be closed on Friday.