The union representing Yukon teachers is calling on the territorial government to follow its own legislation and allow temporary educators to become permanent after two years of employment.
Eight teachers have complained about their prolonged temporary employment status, and their grievance has made it to the adjudication phase.
The Yukon Teachers’ Association (YTA), however, says other temporary educators have been barred from joining the action because their non-permanent status means they aren’t entitled to union representation.
“The argument that was made by the Department (of Education) is that the Yukon Teachers’ Association doesn’t represent, can’t represent temporary employees,” YTA president Jill Mason said in an interview Wednesday.
The government’s assertion strips more than 200 temporary educators of their right to YTA representation, said Mason.
She said temporary educators are part of the YTA; indeed, they make up about 25 per cent of the union’s membership.
Temporary educators pay the same percentage of earnings in union dues as permanent educators.
The minister of Education, however, flatly denies the YTA’s claim that the department is blocking the union from representing temporary teachers.
“The YTA has worked representing temporary teachers for many years, and the department has worked to negotiate with YTA over terms and conditions of employment for temporary teachers, and treated them as the representatives of temporary teachers,” Tracy-Anne McPhee told the Star early this afternoon.
“We we have no intention of changing that practice.”
Over the last few years, close to 100 temporary educators have challenged their temporary employment status, said Mason.
For the eight temporary teachers with a case in adjudication, the YTA is asking the adjudicator to rule that temporary educators must become permanent after two consecutive years of employment.
“If we have people that are temporary for more than two years, who have been doing a pretty good job, they’re getting good evaluations and everything, then they should be becoming permanent employees, and they’re not,” said Mason.
According to the Education Labour Relations Act, temporary educators may work for part or all of a school year. As well, their contracts may be renewed for part or all of a second, consecutive school year.
The act says temporary employment may extend beyond two straight years under “exceptional circumstances.”
The conflict seems to boil down to exactly what circumstances are considered “exceptional.”
Mason said Education is using “exceptional circumstances” to describe ordinary staffing issues, such as a vacancy created by a teacher on leave.
“They’re definitely not exceptional circumstances. If you look at the definition of exceptional, they absolutely aren’t,” she said.
McPhee said there are a number of reasons why a temporary teacher who has been employed for more than two years straight may not be given a permanent job.
For one, there might not be a permanent position to put them in.
McPhee gave some other examples of exceptional circumstances: a teacher may have extended his or her sick leave, or there may be a pilot program with time-limited funding that requires the service of a temporary teacher.
The deputy minister decides what is “exceptional,” said McPhee, and a guideline was published in June 2016 to assist with making such determinations.
Of the Yukon’s 531 teachers, 86 are temporary and 13 of them have been temporary for more than two years, said McPhee.
In a statement issued yesterday, the YTA says “The Yukon government is clearly attempting to save money at the expense of temporary educators by denying them permanent status and association representation.”
The statement accused the government of taking “a confrontational and offensive position by trying to have over 200 educators stripped of their bargaining rights and association represention.”
McPhee called the YTA press release “pretty aggressive.”
“We have a premier (Sandy Silver) who is a teacher, we have a minister of education who is a teacher – I have an education degree – YTA questioning our government’s commitment towards education, and our attitude towards teachers is completely unfounded,” she said.
At the time of today’s interview with the Star, McPhee had not yet spoken to Mason.