BURNABY—On November 27, CUPE released Recognition & Respect, an in-depth report on systemic unrecognized and often unpaid work performed by education assistants (EAs) in B.C.
In the spring, CUPE launched a comprehensive survey of EAs. Between April and June of 2008, 40 per cent of the province’s education assistants participated in the online survey.
With more than 12,500 working in B.C.’s public schools, EAs represent the largest group of support workers in the public school system. They provide direct services to students and play a key role in the overall educational and learning environment, primarily in the special education field, but also in other areas including ESL and First Nations programming.
The survey finds that the unrecognized and often unpaid work of EAs amounts to approximately 800,000 hours a year. While some of the time is reclaimed through informal school-level arrangements, much of it is not. The unpaid time represents a financial subsidy by EAs to the public school system worth several millions of dollars every year.
CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill says that the overwhelming participation of education assistants in the survey, and the very clear finding of major problems, should cause concern for boards of education, school district administrators and government. “These workers, most of whom are women, work very hard to provide a productive learning environment for students. And they care deeply about students’ safety and well-being. The problem is that those who fund and administer our school system rely on the fact education assistants feel compelled to donate their own time free of charge to help students. This needs to change,” says O’Neill.
Deb Taylor, an EA in the Campbell River school district and a CUPE BC general vice-president, says that while the findings are not a surprise – the sheer magnitude of the unpaid and unrecognized time across the province really makes the issue hit home. “Most education assistants will tell you that they don’t feel as though they have a choice. If kids need help getting to the bus, if a teacher or family member needs to consult, or if it means the difference between a student getting to go on a field trip or not, we find it very hard to walk away, even though we are not being paid,” says Taylor.
Further reports are being produced for each school district. And three reports will also be produced summarizing findings for EAs of First Nations background, educational qualifications and aspirations of EAs, and EAs who work on a casual basis.
O’Neill says that CUPE hopes to work with public school employers, the provincial government and boards of education to get education assistants’ work proper recognition and support.
Copies of the report are available at www.bceducationassistants.ca
John Malcolmson, CUPE Research, 778-836.6935: Roseanne Moran, CUPE Communications, 778.835-7537;