Photo by Whitehorse Star
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Katherine Mackwood, the president of the Yukon Teachers Association (YTA), says a ruling by adjudicator Paul Love is extremely important for education in the territory.
Love ruled that eight teachers in the territory should have been given permanent positions rather than continuing to be kept in temporary positions.
The teachers have since been given permanent status.
“This issue is very important,” Mackwood said in an interview Tuesday.
It could impact a number of other similar cases that are still being looked at, added Mackwood, who succeeded Jill Mason as the YTA’s president earlier this year. Mackwood also served as president previously.
In his decision, Love rejected the territory’s claim of “exceptional circumstances” being responsible for the continued temporary hirings. He wrote the government “makes a mockery of the statutory provisions” of the Education Labour Relations Act regarding those circumstances.
Mackwood noted that a temporary employee is required to gain permanent status after two years, except in cases of “exceptional circumstances”.
She argued, though, that the Yukon government was using parental leaves and other standard leaves as an “exceptional circumstance”.
She noted those are standard and don’t constitute anything out of the ordinary.
As Love pointed out in his 38-page decision, the territory had violated section 109 of the Education Labour Relations Act (ERLA), which aims to ensure the employer does not have: “a pool of perpetual contractors to address its ordinary staffing needs.
“Holding an employee in a state of perpetual limbo to convenience the employer in a state of perpetual limbo to convenience the employer in its annual school staffing process is unfair.”
As Mackwood pointed out, keeping teachers in temporary positions year after year means those professionals are without benefits during the summer months.
Some can even have difficulty with things like obtaining a mortgage because of that temporary status.
“It affects the dynamics and economy of the Yukon,” she said, arguing it was a move by the government aimed at saving money.
“They knowingly broke the law at these eight teachers’ expense – that is disgraceful, and not in line with this government’s claim of open, honest, and transparent behaviour,” Mackwood said.
“It is even more offensive because an earlier adjudication came to similar conclusions in a 2013 decision that was then upheld in a judicial review.
“It’s time for the Yukon government to admit its mistakes and obey the law by creating permanent teaching positions for those who have been employed for more than two years and continuing to do so in the future.”
The union emphasized it will continue to fight further cases like this that are also impacting educational assistants and language teachers.
“The Yukon government is not above the law. This is not over,” Mackwood said, highlighting the other cases that are still coming forward.
“We have many other members still litigating and who are in the same situation as these eight grievors who won their grievances.”
While Mackwood made it clear the union will keep up the fight, she also said she is “extremely hopeful” for an improved relationship with the nine-month-old Liberal government.
She noted that it’s still relatively early in the current government’s regime after last year’s territorial election, but initial “overtures” have been positive.
In a statement released Tuesday, Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said the government works with the YTA to resolve issues “and we will continue to work with them for the benefit of all Yukon teachers and students.
“We are regularly at the table with the YTA for the purpose of resolving issues and discussing concerns. In fact, we met with them as recently as August 30, 2017, and we will continue to work with them for the benefit of all Yukon teachers,” McPhee said.
At that meeting, the government confirmed it will comply with Love’s decision.
“The issue of temporary and permanent teachers has been discussed by the Department of Education, the Public Service Commission and the YTA on a regular basis since 2013. The Department of Education continues to work towards a positive relationship with the YTA.”
Meanwhile, the official Opposition Yukon Party also stated its strong support for teachers in the territory.
“While in government (from 2002 to 2016), the Yukon Party made significant investments to support our teachers and students and improve learning outcomes across the territory,” the party noted in a statement.
It then went on to highlight initiatives for teachers that began under Yukon Party governments.
• the establishment of the summer academy annual conference before school starts every year;
• the inclusion of additional professional development and instructional minutes for teachers;
• a new orientation program to learn about Yukon First Nation cultures and traditions through the First Nations Programs and Partnerships Unit;
• the participation of school administrators to participate in training opportunities, including how to introduce and teach students about residential schools;
• training programs through the Curriculum Redesign Learning Networks to allow teachers to explore modern instructional approaches; and
• improved training for educators in non-violent crisis intervention, applied suicide intervention and restorative practices.
– With files from Emily Blake
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