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Canada: four weeks in, VEC strike continues

A teachers’ strike at Vancouver English Centre that began four weeks ago following a long-running debate over pay and the collection of biometric data shows no sign of letting up.

The dispute began 14 months ago over the collection of staff's biometric data. Photo: ETEA Local 9

If the strike does not end soon, there is a risk that international students will be forced to leave Vancouver without graduating

The dispute began 14 months ago, when the school’s owner instructed employees to scan their irises four times a day – in the morning, before lunch, after lunch, and after work. Teachers vehemently opposed the measure on the grounds of privacy.

The strength of feeling was such that three teachers quit within a day over the measures, according to Kim Fissel, a teacher at VEC and interim president of the Education and Training Employees’ Association‘s Local 9 branch, which began representing teachers in December 2014.

“I want to be fairly paid for what I do. I have a degree, I have experience, I should be compensated as such”

“Biometric data is being collected and going through a United States-based company, where I would have no control over very personal information because of the Patriot Act,” she told The PIE News.

In addition to the data issue, Fissel said after becoming unionised, the teachers realised they were being paid less than at other union schools – of 48 teachers at the school, only four earn the living wage for the Vancouver metropolitan area, pegged by the Canadian Living Wage for Families Campaign at $20.64 per hour, she said.

“I want to be fairly paid for what I do. I have a degree, I have experience, I should be compensated as such,” Fissel contended, adding that there have been no staff pay raises for five years and wage payments come up to six days late, prompting teachers to lend each other money.

VEC has agreed to continue with private mediations starting on Friday August 26, after talks broke down in early July after three marathon sessions of mediation.

There are conflicting reports over how the negotiations came to the end: the school has said ETEA Local 9 rejected first collective agreements offered by the employer; while Fissel said the discussion ended with the owner walking out with the negotiations “being 1% away” from a collective agreement.

According to the school, the teachers rejected an offer that would match teachers’ wages against those at PGIC, another school that was represented by ETEA in a pay dispute between teachers and the school’s owners, Loyalist Group (now KGIC).

In a public statement, VEC suggested the strike was taking place during the school’s busiest season because it is “the time of year when most students will be affected”. It added that the school will issue four days of scholarships to all students for each day of the strike.

If the strike does not end soon, there is a risk that international students will be forced to leave Vancouver without graduating, including Youngil Shin, a student from South Korea, whose visa will expire in three weeks.

Speaking to The PIE News, Shin nevertheless said he supports his teachers and the strike, saying: “The teachers are paid unfairly.”

Shin added that he and other students had asked for a refund within the first week of the strike, but the school’s owner, Ken Gardner, said he didn’t know whether or not the school could provide a refund.

The owner of the school has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

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