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    Support Workers in B.C. as they Demand Wage Increases & Benefits!
    BCIT Staff and Faculty on Strike!

    By Alison Bodine

    Chants of Sol-Sol-Sol-Solidarity! Sol-Sol-Sol-Solidarity! surrounded the steps at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Wednesday, November 28th. At a rally organized by the BC Federation of Labour, which represents 400,000 workers in British Columbia, 2000 trade union members joined together in support of fair contracts and collective bargaining rights for workers on strike in the province. Workers from community and social services, heath and post-secondary education sector are currently on strike at many different workplaces all across British Columbia.

    Banners and signs demanding better wages and working conditions rose up in the air as representatives from the BCGEU (BC Government Employees Union), FPSE (Federation of Post-Secondary Educators, (HEU) Hospital Employees Union, CUPE – BC (Canadian Union of Public Employees), CSSBA (the Community Social Services Bargaining Association) and the BC-Fed (BC Federation of Labour) addressed the rally.

    Some of the first groups of people to arrive at the rally included workers on strike at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). November 28th marked the third day of job action by technology instructors, vocational instructors and support staff at the main BCIT Burnaby campus, who are represented by the Faculty and Staff Association (FSA) and the BCGEU.

    Quality Education Without a Contract?

    After working for two years without contracts, this fall the over 2000 members of both unions gave a strike mandate to force the BC government to respect their demands for better salaries and working conditions. On October 19th, 89% of the BCGEU support staff members at BCIT voted in favour of a strike. This was followed by a vote on November 9th, where 78% of the members of the FSA, technology and part-time studies faculty, assistant instructors, technical staff, researchers, curriculum development professionals, librarians, program advisors, peer tutors and counsellors voted in favour of taking strike action. Then, on November 21st, vocational instructors, members of the BCGEU voted 89% in favour of a strike. For the technology and trades instructors the job action included a ban on overtime and on-call work, as well as strikes which have so far resulted in the cancelling of three full days of classes at the BCIT Burnaby campus, and further night-time and part-time studies cancellations and strike actions at the four other BCIT campuses.

    With such an overwhelming majority of workers voting in favour of the strike it is clear just how terrible conditions are for those responsible for instruction and support at BC's second largest post-secondary institution. Quality education is delivered by instructors that are getting the wages and benefits that they deserve. On top of the fact that BCIT faculty and support staff have faced over two years of stagnant wages and have been working without a contract, auxiliary instructors at BCIT, who teach up to 60% of the courses, do not get professional development, sick time or even scheduled vacations, and may not even qualify for benefits after months of teaching according to the FSA.

    This is What the “BC Jobs Plan” Looks Like!

    According to the FSA, BCIT as an institution has agreed to meet the demands of the instructors, including a four percent wage increase over the next two years, but the BC government it not willing to authorize them to do so. This is especially shameful given the “Skills and Training Plan” component of the BC jobs plan. The BC government claims that “Of the one million job openings ahead, 43 per cent will need trades and technical training,” but they are unwilling to invest in public education at an institution that serves over 48,000 students with the exact training that they are claiming to support.

    There will not be any further strike action at BCIT until January 7th due to a negotiated cooling off period as students take final exams. This means that students that were facing a possible loss of their entire semester will not, but the quality of education at BCIT is still on the line until the BC government agrees to meet the demands of all faculty and staff at BCIT.

    This attack on the technology and trades instructors and support staff at BCIT is a continuation of the campaign by the BC government to take away the rights of workers to collectively bargain, as they refuse to respect the demands of the workers and their unions and negotiate a contract. This anti-union position can be seen across the board as the BC government demands concession after concession as workers fight for basic wage increases and benefits in BC, a province with the second highest cost of living in Canada and the second-highest child poverty rates.

    With cutbacks to social services like health and education on both a Federal and Provincial level, working and oppressed people must stand in solidarity with the workers from the community and social services, heath and post-secondary education sector on strike all across B.C. It is only united together fighting for our basic rights that we will win!

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