Yukon government failing to support temporary Yukon teachers

Yukon NDP Education Critic Jim Tredger asked the following question about the legal rights of temporary teachers in the Yukon Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, May 18th.

Tredger (Mayo–Tatchun): Thank you, Madam Speaker. All Yukon teachers are not being treated fairly by the Yukon Party government. Our substitute teachers are the only ones in Canada without access to a bargaining unit. As well, temporary teachers in our school system are being considered temporary for far too long. When temporary teachers take a contract, they do so with the understanding that it’s a pathway to a permanent position. The Yukon Education Labour Relations Act agrees. Several years ago, an adjudicator upheld the law, saying that the over 30-plus temporary teachers with two years on the job had the right to a permanent contract unless there were special circumstances.

Now we hear that there are increasing numbers of temporary teachers. Madam Speaker, how many temporary teachers are currently employed in Yukon’s educational system?

Minister of Education Doug Graham (Porter Creek North): Thank you, Madam Speaker. Temporary teachers are hired for a defined period of time, usually, to meet temporary programming needs in Yukon schools. What the member opposite, I know, is aware of — because he worked in the system — is that there are a number of reasons for this. Teachers are away on a number of different leaves — they can have education leave or paternity and maternity leave. The types of leave are numerous that require temporary replacement of a permanent employee.

In the past, as the member opposite indicated, the Supreme Court of Yukon refused to overturn an adjudicator’s decision ordering that a temporary teacher who had been employed for more than two consecutive years be given the status of a permanent employee. As a result of that, the YTA has filed a number of grievances. It believes that temporary employees who are employed for more than two years should be converted to permanent status.

I realize I am not answering the member’s question directly, but we are now, I think, working on 30 different cases between the YTA and the Education department that involve teachers on temporary status.

Tredger: Thank you, Madam Speaker. The last I heard, there were over 100 temporary teachers out of about 500. That is one teacher in five on a temporary contract. Did the government decide to put budgeting ahead of the benefits created by permanent teaching positions in our schools? When a teacher has a permanent contract, it’s good for them as workers, but it’s also good for the community. Teachers who can lay down roots in their communities are more effective mentors for their students and more effective members of their community.

The Premier has spoken at length about how he believes in a new vision for education. Does that new vision include fair treatment for Yukon’s temporary teachers?

Graham: Madam Speaker, the member opposite is correct. There were approximately 101 temporary teachers in the school system at the beginning of this year; 19 of these have been employed for more than two continuous years.

The member opposite talks about these teachers belonging to a union, and yet, as my colleague indicated yesterday, we have made the offer to the Yukon Teachers’ Association that, if they sign up a majority of members, we would be only too happy to include them in the union and we would make the necessary changes to the legislation. We have not yet heard a response from the YTA.

What the member opposite doesn’t seem to understand is that these temporary teachers are just that — temporary. The permanent teachers are expected to come back to their jobs. In many cases, because these temporary teachers have proven to be exemplary employees, they are moved to another temporary job; however, they remain temporary. At the present time, I know we are going through a process with the YTA to determine how many of these people should be considered permanent employees, and I will wait for those negotiations or those discussions between the YTA and the department to complete before —

Speaker Patti McLeod (Watson Lake): Order, please.

Tredger: Thank you, Madam Speaker. In some schools, close to 50 percent of the teachers are temporary. The minister can’t stand up in the House and claim he is overhauling Yukon’s education system when there are so many temporary teachers in our schools. This government is also relying ever more on temporary contracts for educational assistants. When educators are unable to be a long-term part of their school community, the quality of education may suffer. A new vision for education has to start with a better deal for the front-line workers in our schools who work in our classrooms.

Why is this Yukon Party government still relying on temporary contracts for so many of our Yukon educators when what we need is long-term partners in our children’s education?

Graham: Madam Speaker, the member opposite, I think, is getting his terminology confused. Temporary teachers are part of the YTA. If the teacher is teaching as a temporary teacher in the school system, they are part of the YTA — as are educational assistants, as are aboriginal language teachers. They are all members of the Yukon Teachers’ Association; they are all covered by the YTA collective agreement; they are all paid at the same rate and have the same benefits as if their jobs were permanent. If the member opposite is talking about substitute teachers, that’s an entirely different matter.

Temporary teachers are part of the YTA. They’re paid at the same level. The only difference is if they are on a specific term-limited contract.

Madam Speaker, we have only so many teaching FTEs within the Department of Education — permanent FTEs. We can fill those permanent FTEs; that’s all. If the member opposite has a wonderful idea over there that he would institute which would give us a whole lot more FTEs and create a number of teachers who aren’t teaching anywhere, maybe he would do that. But — I’m sorry, Madam Speaker — we have a more conscientious approach to the problem here.


Photo: alancleaver / flickr. Used under a CC BY 2.0 licence.