03/18/2012 03:20 EDT | Updated 05/18/2012 05:12 EDT

B.C. teachers debate response to contract bill

B.C. teachers are debating their short-term response to Bill 22, including whether to continue to supervise extracurricular activities, at their annual convention in Vancouver.

Members of the B.C. Teachers' Federation gathered over the weekend to discuss how to respond to the back-to-work legislation that went into effect Saturday, ending job action and forcing teachers to write report cards.

The teachers complain Bill 22 puts many controls on how they do their jobs while doing nothing to improve classroom conditions.

"We will take actions that build public awareness of the consequences of these legislative attacks and build public commitment to ending the reign of these political bullies," BCTF president Susan Lambert told about 700 delegates Saturday night.

"We will hold true to the integrity of our beliefs, we will do this unequivocally and courageously because we are teachers and we are building a better world."

'Pretty sad'

Lambert said the bill, which also levies stiff fines if teachers walk off the job, turns teachers into pawns of the government.

"With these reforms we would become mere line workers bent to the will of provincial politics and politicians but ... we will never let that happen."

Delegates will begin to debate Sunday on what the union's short-term response to Bill 22 will be, including the option of pulling all volunteer work teachers do for sports and after-school clubs, but a final decision is not expected until early next week.

Even though many teachers are furious with the legislation, not all want to leverage the volunteering they do against it.

Rich Goulet, a Pitt Meadows teacher who also coaches basketball, doesn't want to give up coaching to fight Bill 22.

"When 80 per cent of your workforce leaves at 3 p.m. and doesn't do anything extracurricular, it's pretty sad to ask the 20 per cent to give up volunteer time," he said.

The province's 41,000 teachers have been without a contract since June and began job action in September, which included not filling out report cards.

Earlier this month they staged a three-day strike after the government introduced legislation to end the job action and appoint a mediator to settle the dispute or impose a contract by September. Key issues in the dispute include wages, benefits, class sizes and support for special needs students.

The government has already said any mediated settlement must abide by the province's so-called "net zero" mandate, which stipulates that new public-sector contracts must not cost the government any additional money. That means any gains, such as increased wages, must be offset by concessions elsewhere.