Following a support worker strike on Monday, eighteen schools in the Vancouver Island district of Saanich have closed. The eighteen schools educate roughly 7,300 students, according to CBC.
Teachers have thrown their support behind the support workers. A teacher’s union has said these workers have a right to protest their current wages, which are lower than those of their counterparts in other districts. This also means that parents will have to find alternative means of care during the day.
According to Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 441 president Dean Coates, these low wages are a decades-old problem, which has negatively impacted recruitment for the district and retention problems with support worker staff.
“So, we’re overworked, postings go unfilled, no replacements because they can’t retain them, they go to the other districts,” Coates said. “So, we’re in a constant state of triage as a result of the low wages.”
Conversely, district superintendent Dave Eberwein says that the district has offered the union “everything possible under the government-directed mandate of two per cent in each of three years,” reports CBC, and that the district has looked for alternative means to boost salaries.
“There isn’t another support staff offer out there in the province that is as good as this one,” Eberwein said. “It doesn’t completely bridge the wage disparity, but this is step one of two that we’re looking at.”
Eberwein says that the lower wages for support workers in his district are a result of unions going after more benefits at the expense of worker’s wages decades ago. This has led to support worker’s earning between 30 cents and $4 per hour less than support workers in other districts.
While the district has tried to remedy the situation by increasing the wages by 6 percent over three years, there are currently no new negotiations plans. As such, it isn’t clear how long the support worker’s strike will last.
With that said, Coates is optimistic that the problem will be resolved, and that the district is working towards a solution that doesn’t open up the school board to the potential of other districts going on strike.
“I empathize with the frustration that they’re feeling. Our goal is to come to a resolution as quickly as possible,” Coates said.