N.S. Lib­er­als end teach­ers’ con­tract dis­pute


With shouts of “Shame’’ cas­cad­ing from the pub­lic gallery, Nova Scotia’s Lib­eral govern­ment passed a con­tentious bill Tues­day end­ing a 16-month con­tract dis­pute with the prov­ince’s 9,300 pub­lic school teach­ers.

The Lib­er­als used their ma­jor­ity to ram through Bill 75, which also ended a work-to-rule job ac­tion that be­gan Dec. 5.

The vote was

33 to 17.

“Teach­ing is not easy,’’ Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Karen

Casey told the house as she moved pas­sage of the fi­nal read­ing of the leg­is­la­tion late Tues­day af­ter­noon fol­low­ing a lengthy ses­sion that be­gan at 12:01 a.m.

“Chal­lenges in the class­room are very real,’’ said

Casey. “It is our re­spon­si­bil­ity as govern­ment to work with our teach­ers to en­sure that our stu­dents re­main a pri­or­ity for both.’’

In­tro­duced last Tues­day, Bill 75 be­came law af­ter a series of around-the-clock sit­tings, usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied by the sounds of teach­ers and their sup­port­ers bang­ing drums, blow­ing whis­tles and chant­ing out­side Prov­ince House.

Speak­ing with re­porters Tues­day, Premier Stephen McNeil said the law was needed to re­turn class­rooms to nor­mal by end­ing the teach­ers’ work-torule job ac­tion.

“We were hop­ing to get an agree­ment at the bar­gain­ing ta­ble, as I’ve said so many times,’’ said McNeil. “There is no ques­tion it (work-to-rule) has had an im­pact on stu­dents ... we had to move so this con­tract would be in place and work-torule would end.’’

Teach­ers held a one-day strike Fri­day in protest of leg­is­la­tion they say doesn’t pro­vide the help they need in the class­room. It was the first time in the union’s 122-year his­tory that mem­bers had walked off the job.

The new law im­poses a fouryear con­tract that con­tains a three per cent salary in­crease and in­cor­po­rates many el­e­ments in­cluded in the first two ten­ta­tive agree­ments re­jected by union mem­bers. A third ten­ta­tive agree­ment was also re­jected ear­lier this month.

Nova Scotia Teach­ers’ Union pres­i­dent Li­ette Doucet said she was proud of how her mem­ber­ship had stood up for its rights and ad­vo­cated for bet­ter class­rooms.

“They be­lieve through this ac­tion that they have had their voices heard and their voices have been heard right across the prov­ince,’’ Doucet said. ``They hope that the ci­ti­zens of this prov­ince re­al­ize that we have a bro­ken sys­tem and that some­thing needs to be done and pres­sure needs to re­main on the govern­ment to make those changes.’’

McNeil said af­ter the vote that the govern­ment will now fo­cus on a promised com­mit­tee for class­room im­prove­ment, which will get $20 mil­lion over two years and make rec­om­men­da­tions to im­prove work­ing con­di­tions.

The bill was passed with a mi­nor amend­ment that will bring in an ar­bi­tra­tor to set­tle dis­putes be­tween mem­bers of the com­mit­tee, com­prised of four govern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, one union co-chair and nine class­room teach­ers se­lected by school board su­per­in­ten­dents.

Un­der the last deal re­jected by union mem­bers, the pro­vi­sion would have al­lowed the ar­bi­tra­tor to rule on is­sues worth up to $250,000 a year. Lib­eral house leader Michel Sam­son said the govern­ment was dou­bling the amount to $500,000, and that any mem­ber of the 14-mem­ber coun­cil would now be al­lowed to trig­ger the ar­bi­tra­tion process.

The NSTU has said the coun­cil’s com­po­si­tion doesn’t give it enough say, and Doucet said the union would look at ap­point­ing mem­bers to the com­mit­tee. She also said teach­ers would not be forced by the union to do ex­tra ac­tiv­i­ties like coach­ing out­side school hours that aren’t cov­ered by the con­tract.

“Those are the things that teach­ers ac­tu­ally love do­ing with their stu­dents,’’ Doucet said. “If teach­ers make de­ci­sions not to do those things — those will be very hard de­ci­sions for our teach­ers.’’

Un­der ques­tion­ing in the leg­is­la­ture, McNeil re­vealed the govern­ment saved about $3.4 mil­lion in the one-day strike. He said the money would be used for stu­dent grants across the prov­ince.

Op­po­si­tion Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Leader Jamie Bail­lie asked McNeil whether the prov­ince was set­ting aside funds for a court challenge the union has vowed to launch.

“By his reck­less ac­tions, the premier has com­mit­ted the tax­pay­ers of Nova Scotia to years of le­gal chal­lenges and mil­lions of dol­lars in le­gal costs,’’ Bail­lie said.

He pointed out that prior chal­lenges in Bri­tish Columbia and On­tario had re­sulted in suc­cess­ful law­suits.

How­ever, McNeil ex­pressed con­fi­dence the bill would with­stand a le­gal challenge by the union.

“We had three dif­fer­ent agree­ments with two dif­fer­ent ex­ec­u­tives of the teach­ers’ union,’’ he said. “Each and ev­ery time we went to the ta­ble ... we changed the agree­ment pro­vid­ing more sup­port.

“I think even the lawyer rep­re­sent­ing the teach­ers’ union said this piece of leg­is­la­tion will stand the test.’’

NDP Leader Gary Bur­rill said the only thing that can end the mis­trust be­tween the sides is “with the new broom that we’ll have in an elec­tion.’’

As he left the leg­is­la­ture Tues­day, McNeil’s ve­hi­cle was held up by protest­ing teach­ers car­ry­ing plac­ards for about four min­utes be­fore it could squeeze through the gates and onto a down­town Hal­i­fax street.




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