Contract offer rejected: what happens next for Nova Scotia teachers and students?

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Nova Scotia government ‘not returning to table’ after teachers reject deal
WATCH ABOVE: Education Minister Karen Casey says the province won’t announce its next steps in the dispute with teachers until their union shows its hand. Global's legislative reporter Marieke Walsh looks at whether teachers are heading to a strike – Oct 5, 2016

The government and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union say they are considering their options after teachers rejected the latest contract offer.

Nova Scotia says it won’t return to the bargaining table and the union says it is “seriously” considering a strike vote.

Options available to the union include: asking for arbitration, job action or doing nothing.

Meanwhile, the government’s options include ordering a lockout, agreeing to arbitration, introducing anti-strike legislation and/or proclaiming wage legislation.

To strike or not to strike

The union says it’s “seriously” considering asking members for a strike mandate. Union President Liette Doucet said the government’s refusal to go back to the table leaves the union with few options other than job action.

“We’re left with very few choices at the moment and strike action or job action of some kind is a real possibility,” Doucet said.

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A strike mandate wouldn’t necessarily mean students aren’t in class. The teachers could start by working-to-rule or with rotating picket lines, Doucet said. Work-to-rule would mean that teachers stop doing anything that isn’t explicitly required in their contract.

Arbitration an option already rejected by McNeil

Under the Teacher’s Collective Bargaining Act, both sides have to agree to binding arbitration for it to go ahead. Doucet said usually more negotiations or arbitration would be the next step.

Education Minister Karen Casey wouldn’t rule out arbitration on Wednesday, but last week Premier Stephen McNeil said he won’t allow it.

“No arbitrator, no third party will determine what a collective agreement will be in this province,” McNeil said.

The government also has wage legislation that limits the decisions an arbitrator can make. Bill 148 was passed by the legislature but hasn’t been enacted into law.

Waiting out the government

Doucet said another possibility is to wait out the government and see if it will make the first move in an effort to end the labour dispute.

“Those are all options that we have,” she said.

That tactic appears to be what the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) is doing. The NSGEU agreed to put a vote to its members last year, but after the teachers rejected a similar contract last December, the NSGEU delayed its vote, and has yet to hold one.

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Lockout is the government’s option for job action

The McNeil Liberals could also preemptively lockout public school teachers, however Casey wouldn’t say whether that is one of the options the government is considering.

“We are waiting to hear back from the union before we make any decisions about what we do, because we don’t know what their decisions will be or what their ask might be,” Casey said.

Government not saying no to anti-strike legislation

Another option the government could go with is tabling more legislation, either by banning a strike or legislating teachers back to work if a strike starts.

Asked if the province would enact anti-strike legislation, Casey said “teachers have the right to strike and at this point we’re waiting to hear back from them to see what their next steps will be.”

‘Not looking at’ wage legislation: minister

The Liberals could also choose to proclaim Bill 148 which would freeze the wages of virtually all public sector workers in Nova Scotia. Casey said at this point the Liberals aren’t considering the bill.

“Bill 148 will not get us a new agreement,” she said. “We are not looking at 148. We are waiting for the teachers to get back and let us know what their next steps are.”

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44-day cooling off period before any new developments

No matter what each side chooses, both has to respect a cooling-off period before any further action is taken. Once the provincial conciliator submits a report on the vote, a 44-day freeze on any job action will be enforced.

The union says it expects to make a decision in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, the government says it will announce its next move once the teachers announce theirs.

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