The Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) says a recent a ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada strengthens its position in an ongoing contract dispute with the provincial government.
“It affirms what we’ve been saying all along, that the government can’t legislate away rights that have been bargained,” NSTU President Liette Doucet said.
The court ruled in favour of the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) on Thursday in the federation’s 14-year dispute with the B.C. government.
In a surprise decision, the court ruled from the bench on the same day it heard legal arguments on whether B.C. violated collective bargaining rights when it legislated away elements of the teachers’ contract. The ruling will force B.C. to reinstate classroom size and composition provisions that were previously entrenched in the teachers’ contract. The fight dates back to 2002.
The NSTU’s position is being backed by at least two academics in Halifax, but the province maintains the circumstances are different.
“It strengthens the hand of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union,” Paul Bennett, an adjunct professor with Saint Mary’s University, said Monday. He added the union “feels it changed the nature of the game and I would have to agree.”
Nova Scotia Teachers have twice rejected tentative agreements that their union recommended. According to several teachers and the union executive, the sticking points are better classroom conditions, the reinstatement of the long service award and cost-of-living wage increases. The teachers will be in a legal strike position as of Dec. 3.
Top court ruling weakens Nova Scotia Bill 148: professor
Mount Saint Vincent professor Robert Berard says the top court’s ruling weakens the power of Bill 148 in Nova Scotia. The bill would freeze wages across the public sector and freeze the long service award for current employees while stripping it from future employees.
Bill 148 has passed through the legislature but isn’t proclaimed, so while it is not legally binding, Berard says its potential power over unions is weakened because it is less likely to withstand a legal challenge.
“Parts of it might survive but if it’s to be used as a club to say, ‘We can claw back provisions that have been negotiated’ – without a good faith attempt to negotiate over those provisions, the government will find itself back in court,” he said.
Berard says the ruling makes it likely the long service award will stay in public sector contracts unless respective unions agree to remove it through negotiations.
“What the Supreme Court seems to have said is if you have negotiated a provision, the only way to get rid of it is to negotiate it out,” Berard said.
Bennett, who is also an education consultant, also says the ruling’s most direct impact is likely on the long service award. The Nova Scotia Teachers Union agrees.
‘Circumstances in B.C. vary from Nova Scotia’: Government
No one from the provincial government was available for an interview but in a late statement, spokesperson Tina Thibeau said the circumstances in the two provinces “vary.”
“The wage pattern and treatment of the long service award were reached at the bargaining table through good faith collective bargaining,” the statement read.
“The province is treating all employees fairly and providing the same wage package to each group. The contract reflects what taxpayers have the ability to pay.”
When Bill 148 was introduced, the General Employees Union (NSGEU) and the NSTU likened bargaining under the threat of wage legislation to bargaining with a “hammer over your head” and referred to the process as “heavy-handed.”
The teachers will be in a legal strike position between December and April of 2017.