Q & A - Beware of correspondence about tripartite discussions

January 17, 2012 Gordon Thomas

Question: What should I do when my board corresponds with me about tripartite discussions?

Answer: First, please inform the Alberta Teachers’ Association of any tripartite-related communications coming from your school board.

Second, teachers will be advised by the ATA of substantive developments involving the tripartite process if and when they occur. Teachers will have an opportunity to be informed about and participate in decision making concerning their collective agreement through their bargaining unit.

Though tripartite discussions have been ongoing, they have yet to result in any agreement or come to any conclusion. Their objective is to explore solutions that would guarantee continuing labour peace after the current collective agreements expire in August 2012. The discussions are wide-ranging and address issues that are provincial in scope, including funding stability, teacher compensation, workload issues and professional development.

On January 2, 2012, the Board of Trustees of Horizon School Division distributed to all division staff a briefing on the board’s perspective on discussions that are ongoing between the Government of Alberta, the Alberta School Boards Association and the Alberta Teachers’ Association. To my knowledge, and at the time of this writing, no other board in the province has distributed such a briefing. Our solicitors are considering pursuing our concerns about the briefing before the Alberta Labour Relations Board.

Unfortunately, much of the briefing is based upon unfounded assumptions and misunderstandings about what is being discussed and speculation about a potential outcome of this process. As a result, the briefing is misleading and the direction it provides to teachers is inappropriate.

From the outset, the ATA, reflecting the direction provided by teachers, has focused on the ever-expanding teacher workload and increasing demands made by the Department of Education and school boards on teachers’ time outside the classroom. Among the potential approaches advanced by the ATA for addressing workload issues are provincial standards related to the amount of time for which teachers can be assigned duties. Limiting assignable time is not the same as limiting a teacher’s professional obligations, teaching time or students’ access to instruction. This distinction has been lost in the flawed analysis the Horizon board sent to its staff.

The board’s suggestion that teachers (and other staff members) should lobby the minister of education and members of the legislative assembly on these issues is also inappropriate. Teachers should not take direction from their board on this matter.

Teachers should continue to visit the ATA website (www.teachers.ab.ca) and read the ATA News for current and accurate information.

Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Gordon Thomas at Barnett House (gordon.thomas@ata.ab.ca).

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