Imposed contract possible
Teachers union braces for legislation after third offer rejected
The Nova Scotia Teachers Union is considering how to navigate its contract dispute with the province so it can avoid having the government impose a settlement.
The province’s 9,300 public school teachers voted overwhelmingly to reject a tentative agreement Thursday — the third endorsed by the union’s executive since contract talks began in 2015.
Union president Liette Doucet said Friday the union was taking stock of its options — such as modifying its work-to-rule job action, which is set to resume Monday, or inviting the government back to the table for more conciliatory talks.
Most every action available to the union could be brought to a halt, Doucet said, if the government decides to impose a contract on the union through legislation.
“We would hope that (the province) would be looking to come to a deal with us,’’ she said. “Legislation is one of the options that the government has and I don’t know if that’ll be the decision that they make, but it is a possibility.’’
Education Minister Karen Casey said in a statement Thursday that the government will “consider the next step,’’ but did not elaborate. Nova Scotia’s education ministry declined a request for comment Friday.
Doucet said she does not see the vote against the latest deal as a sign of dissension within the union’s ranks, but rather as further evidence of the government’s unwillingness to negotiate in good faith.
“I think that teachers recognize that their leadership fought a good fight at the table,’’ said Doucet. “They spoke loud and clear that it wasn’t enough. They’re not going to see immediate changes to their classrooms.’’
With 100 per cent of the union’s membership taking part in an electronic vote, 78.5 per cent turned down the deal.
Premier Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government is into the fourth year of its mandate. He’s widely expected to call an election this year making the teachers dispute an unwelcome issue for the Liberals to deal with.
Doucet said the union’s membership voted down the most recent contract because of the province’s reluctance to budge on key points of contention like wage increases, the long service award — a one-time payout upon retirement based on salary and the number of years worked — and other benefits.
Doucet said public school teachers are also growing impatient that the government refuses to commit to taking immediate action to improve classroom conditions. She said the latest contract offer would have had any “changes’’ brokered through a committee or commission — meaning improvements could take years.
“They don’t have any trust in this government because they’ve been discussing these issues for years,’’ she said. “If the government were willing to take the steps to make these kinds of improvements in the classroom right away, I think teachers would look at this contract differently.’’
The teachers have been without a contract since July 31, 2015 and negotiations started on Sept. 29, 2015. The teachers have been in a legal strike position since Dec. 5, after voting 96 per cent in favour of strike action.
When the latest tentative contract was reached Jan. 20, the teachers suspended their work-to-rule campaign. The job action was not popular among many parents and students, given the fact that field trips, Christmas concerts and sporting events had to be cancelled.
The union’s work-to-rule edict stipulates teachers should only report for work 20 minutes before class starts and leave 20 minutes after the school day ends.