Government’s threat to charge BCTF for benefits: Why it is unenforceable, and what it shows about the BC Liberals

In recent labour talks with BC teachers, Peter Cameron, chief negotiator for the BC Public Employer’s Association (BCPSEA), has put the teachers on notice that it intends to force their union to pay for employee benefits. To justify this action, it cites Article 62 of the BC Labour Code.

Below is a copy of Article 62. Let’s break it down, shall we?

Continuation of benefits

62  (1) If employees are lawfully on strike or lawfully locked out, their health and welfare benefits, other than pension benefits or contributions, normally provided directly or indirectly by the employer to the employees must be continued if the trade union tenders payment to the employer or to any person who was before the strike or lockout obligated to receive the payment

(a) in an amount sufficient to continue the employees’ entitlement to the benefits, and

(b) on or before the regular due date of that payment.

(2) If subsection (1) is complied with

(a) the employer or other person referred to in that subsection must accept the payment tendered by the trade union, and

(b) a person must not deny to an employee a benefit described in that subsection, including coverage under an insurance plan, for which the employee would otherwise be eligible, because the employee is participating in a lawful strike or is lawfully locked out.

(3) A trade union and an employer may agree in writing to specifically exclude the operation of this section.

The above section is meant to ensure that employees continue to receive their health benefits even if they are on strike. In most strike situations, employees can’t pay their portion of the benefits because they are not earning a paycheque. In such cases, it is common for the union to pick up the slack on those payments. The ruling says that as long as payments are being made by the union, the employee must provide the benefit.

In this dispute, payments ARE ALREADY BEING MADE BY THE UNION through its members’ payroll deductions, so what the employer is really doing is violating the very article that it cites as a rationale for its action.

Teachers are still working full time and getting paid. Therefore there is no need for the union to pay the employees’ share of the benefits. According to the ruling, thehealth and welfare benefits, other than pension benefits or contributions, normally provided directly or indirectly by the employer to the employees must be continued.” (In this case, the benefits are provided “indirectly”, as the employer purchases an insurance plan from Blue Cross, and Blue Cross pays teachers’ medical costs.)

This latest strategy by government is a nasty little stunt. It is intended to scare and provoke the union into further job action. Meanwhile the government has shown no serious commitment to a negotiated settlement, as it still clings to the ridiculous idea of a 10 year contract.

It is all part of the government’s “bad faith bargaining” through the BC Public School Employer’s Association (BCPSEA). The Supreme Court of BC has already ruled that the government’s tactic of goading the teachers into a full blown strike is illegal. The government has purposely stalled and strained relations with teachers by firing the board of BCPSEA just when talks were looking positive, and by appealing the Supreme Court ruling.

The Labour Relations Act demonstrates the correct spirit of government – which is to protect people from harm in an unbalanced power situation. The current government’s violation of this act shows blatantly, its cynical contempt for its own citizens.

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