The next move in Nova Scotia’s simmering contract dispute with its teachers is up to the union, says Premier Stephen McNeil.
McNeil wouldn’t tip his hand Thursday when asked whether the government would legislate the teachers back to work in the event of a potential strike.
The Nova Scotia Teachers Union has scheduled a strike vote for its 9,000 members for Oct. 25.
“They’ll have to determine whether or not they want to go on strike,” said McNeil. “That is part of their contract … it’s an option they have and that’s a decision they will make.”
The union recently rejected the government’s most recent contract offer with about 70 per cent of the membership who voted saying no. Teachers also rejected an earlier tentative settlement in a vote last November by a 61 per cent margin.
In both votes, the executive had recommended its members accept the contract.
McNeil said the government remains willing to talk about non-contract issues to support teachers in the classroom.
“There is no more money,” he said. “We will continue to improve the learning environment, but now the union and the teachers will have to make their decision on what’s next for them.”
The union has planned information meetings for its members early next week.
The government has requested that a conciliator file a report on the contract negotiations and once that happens the union would have to wait 44 days before it could give a 48-hour strike notice.
Conciliator report will ‘set the clock in motion’
Education Minister Karen Casey said asking for the report was simply part of completing the conciliator’s work and wasn’t meant to start the countdown on a potential strike.
“It does set the clock in motion,” she conceded.
Opposition leader Jamie Baillie said there was no good reason for the government and teachers to be at an impasse.
He said the government should have spoken about its plans for the dispute on Thursday.
“Doing nothing and saying nothing puts us down the road to a strike and that is not acceptable,” said Baillie.
The Tory leader wouldn’t say whether the government should legislate in the event of a strike, but said the government should table a package of classroom improvements in the legislature that could help address teachers’ concerns.
Looming over the dispute is the province’s yet-to-be-proclaimed public sector salary bill, which would impose a wage freeze for two years, followed by a three per cent raise over the next two years.
Drafted last year, the Public Services Sustainability Act remains as a threat that would only be used if the province can’t achieve its goals at the negotiating table with its public sector unions.
The Nova Scotia Federation of Labour has said the bill contravenes workers’ rights to free collective bargaining, and runs counter to the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that found the right to collective bargaining is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.