Lockout leads to confusion, daily rallies at Central: teacher

Burnaby Central secondary teachers rally in front of the school on Deer Lake Parkway during their lunch hour lockout Tuesday. - John Decaire/Contributed
Burnaby Central secondary teachers rally in front of the school on Deer Lake Parkway during their lunch hour lockout Tuesday.
— image credit: John Decaire/Contributed

When it comes to the teachers dispute, it appears the only thing clear is that Burnaby teachers were to stage a one-day strike Thursday, closing schools.

The government's partial lockout of teachers, on the other hand, is a whole other matter.

John Decaire, a social studies teacher at Burnaby Central secondary, told the NewsLeader said what the B.C. Public School Employers Association (BCPSEA) has told the union has been "somewhat confusing."

As of Monday, when the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) began its rotating strikes, BCPSEA's partial lockout has required teachers to not be in school working earlier than 45 minutes before school starts and no later than 45 minutes after school ends. But it's the lunch hour lockout that has teachers puzzled.

Decaire said they've been told teachers are allowed to be in the school building during lunch hour, but they should not be working or communicating with students about schoolwork.

That's despite teachers' lunch hours being their own free time to begin with.

"So that is a bit odd and difficult because it's time that apparently we were not getting paid for but we were expected to work nonetheless, and it's their justification for reducing our pay by 10 per cent," he said.

Essentially, they're told they can't work on their free time but because it's understood that they often do so, BCPSEA can justify cutting teachers' pay by 10 per cent.

Clear as mud.

Teachers at Central have taken to the street during their lunch hours this week, rallying in front of the school with signs that include, "forbidden to work on my own time."

Decaire said on Monday and Tuesday, as on most days, students stopped him as he left his classroom at lunch to ask questions about assignments and upcoming tests. He's had to tell them he can't talk to them because of the lockout.

That's left students confused and finding the whole situation odd and strange.

"They don't understand. They're talking to me and two minutes later the bell rings and I can't finish my conversation with them," Decaire said. "In theory, I could be disciplined by my employer for having a work-related conversation with a student at that time."

And while the government maintains teachers can continue to volunteer their time after 3:45 p.m., the BCTF has warned that they may not be covered by WorkSafeBC if they're hurt because they won't be in the employ of the school district at that time.

Decaire said the BCTF has informed its members of a precedent—a teacher was participating in intramural sports with students during the lunch period. When he was hurt, WorkSafeBC would not cover him even though the union argued the administrators encouraged teachers to participate. And this was before the lockout.

Decaire did not know where the incident happened but said some teachers are rethinking their volunteer activities as a result.

"I would be risking my family's livelihood to do that," he said.

"In my opinion, the employer is trying to have it both ways. They're trying to have a lockout that puts pressure on the employee. But they're still trying to squeeze out some of the services that we give to our community in that time that we are locked out in."

He was hoping everything would be clarified or the lockout ended after Thursday. That's when the BCTF's challenge of the lockout and pay cut were expected to be heard and addressed by the Labour Relations Board.

"In the end the students suffer," Decaire said of the situation.

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