04/27/2012 03:47 EDT | Updated 06/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Minister vows to defend B.C. teachers who volunteer

B.C's Minister of Education says he will go to court if necessary, to defend teachers who want to volunteer their time for extra-curricular activities.

"We will be working with our legal counsel, we will be working with BCPC, we'll be working through the Labour Relations Board or the courts of British Columbia to ensure everyone has the right to volunteer in this province, and no one has the right to tell me or to tell you or to tell any teacher in this province when and where they can volunteer," said George Abbott.

The minister was reacting to comments made earlier this week by Derek DeGear, the president of the Nanaimo District Teachers Association.

DeGear reportedly told a Nanaimo newspaper that the B.C. Teachers' Federation members who continue to volunteer for school activities could face punishments ranging from having to apologize to colleagues to fines to having their BCTF membership suspended.

Last week, members of the BC Teachers' Federation voted 73 per cent in favour of withdrawing from volunteering for extra curricular activities, to protest against the government's Education Improvement Act.

The minister is also calling on DeGear to withdraw what he says are unfortunate and irresponsible comments.

"I hope that Mr. DeGear withdraws that very threatening and intimidating and bullying words that he has uttered," said Abbott.

Meanwhile, the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District has written to Abbott, asking him to withdraw Bill 22 because it has caused so much dissent. Bill 22 removed teachers of the right to strike and appointed a mediator to try negotiate an end to the contract dispute.

The teachers have been without a contract since June and began job action in September. Key issues in the contract dispute include wage increases, class sizes and support for special needs students.