Back-to-work order will not solve the problems plaguing our schools

EDMONTON - The government can use its legal clout to force teachers back to work, but they can't make teachers and parents forget their concerns about over-crowded classrooms and chronic under-funding, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.

"Using a back-to-work order may end the strike, but it will do nothing to address the problems that caused the dispute in the first place," says Les Steel, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"As long as these problems remain unaddressed, teachers and parents will continue to be angry and dissatisfied - and the quality of education in our province will continue to suffer."

Steel says Premier Ralph Klein and Education minister Lyle Oberg are deluding themselves if they think that everything will return to business as usual once teachers are back on the classroom.

"The problem with these kinds of heavy-handed tactics is that they almost always backfire," says Steel. "Sure, you can force people back to work. But the government is running the risk of poisoning labour relations in Alberta schools for years to come."
Steel says that if the teachers don't feel they're being fairly treated, more and more of them are simply going to quit and it will become more difficult to attract new people to the profession.

"So, by playing tough-guy today, the government may win a short-term victory. But there will be a big price to pay in the long-run."

Steel also expressed skepticism about government plans to bring in a mediator if teachers and school boards are not able to reach an agreement by March 16.

"Arbitration only works if the arbitrator is completely independent and not a puppet of the government. We don't have confidence that this will be the case when it comes to the teachers' dispute," says Steel.

Steel says that the real problem - the problem that has been at the heart of the things since negotiations began - is that the government is refusing to put more money on the table.

"By refusing to consider new funding, the government is not giving the either school boards or the arbitrator any room to move," says Steel. "As a result, the arbitration process will be a sham - it's really just a front for an imposed settlement."

Steel says that what's really needed to end the dispute with the teachers is for the government to stop hiding behind the school boards and acknowledge that more provincial money is needed to properly fund schools throughout the province.

"I have no doubt that a settlement can be reached with the teachers without having to resort to heavy-handed legal action," says Steel. "But it's not going to happen until the provincial government acknowledges its responsibilities and gives the school boards the resources they need to reduce class sizes and pay teachers a fair wage."

For more information call:

Les Steel, President    @ 483-3021 (wk) 499-4135 (cell)

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