The BCIT Faculty and Staff Association have gone on strike in hopes of gaining a new contract from employers and the provincial government.
Vocational instructors, who teach trades, and support staff who are represented by the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), were striking at all of BCIT’s campuses except the Aerospace Technology Centre in Richmond.
The association has been without a contract since June 2010.
A letter writing campaign by the association to Christy Clark and a rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery are also part of the protest.
Frustrated with no sign of a contract
“We want a four-year contract,” said BCIT instructor Kathryn Stewart who was involved in the protest at the downtown campus. “There are other factors such as we [the association] don’t have maternity leave benefits topped up to the same level as other institutions.”
“Our members don’t get 100 per cent maternity leave and that’s not fair.”
Stewart is an instructor in the radio, arts and entertainment program at BCIT and is also a director of the association.
Province has built up caste-system amongst institutions, says BCIT instructor
She argued that the province has created two classes of teaching in which universities are separate from colleges and other post-secondary institutions.
“The provincial government has said that now we are in our own sector, we are only allowed to negotiate up to a one per cent [increase] in our contracts but universities are allowed to negotiate up to two per cent, so you can see the inequities.”
It is reported that BCIT is willing to offer its employees a four per cent increase over two years but the provincial government has other ideas for funding.
Province funds infrastructure, staff argue education needs to come first
The province is putting funding into infrastructure such as mining and transportation but Stewart also said that those projects need people who are trained to work in them.
“If you don’t have a skilled labour force to fill those jobs, then they will be farmed out.”
Stewart illustrated that BCIT has lost instructors due to the idea that they are paid less than what they would be in infrastructure departments or at other post-secondary institutions.
“We cannot replace those really good instructors, because teaching is an art. So we’re at half-staff and if that trend continues, then we are losing our ability to train students,” said Stewart. “The premier has her priorities in the wrong order.”
High hopes for a new contract
Stewart expressed her sympathy for the cost that the students have to pay as a result of missed classes for the protest, but remains confident that a new contract is a possibility.
“I’d like to be optimistic and say our message will eventually be heard, but it’s an uphill battle. I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be able to negotiate at the table with our employer.”
Reported by Ross Armour
Photo sideshow of BCIT support staff and vocational instructors picketing outside of the downtown Vancouver BCIT campus. Photos by Michelle Gamage.