Proposed legislation would impose a new four-year contract for Nova Scotia’s 9,300 teachers and result in an end to their union’s legal strike position.
The province’s Liberal government unveiled the contract Tuesday, which, once passed, would end the 16-month long contract dispute.
The new contract contains a three per cent salary increase and incorporates much of the elements contained in the first two tentative agreements rejected by members of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. A third tentative deal was rejected last week by a vote of 78.5 per cent, prompting the government to push ahead with a legislated settlement.
“For more than two months, this impasse and continued work-to-rule strike action have had a negative impact on our students, our families, our teachers and our communities,” Education Minister Karen Casey said. “It cannot continue.”
The salary package includes zero per cent for the first two years, followed by increases of one per cent in the third year and 1.5 per cent in the fourth, with a 0.5 per cent increase on the last day of the agreement.
It is the least generous of the wage packages that teachers rejected. Casey said it’s the same wage pattern teachers rejected in the first deal, although by a smaller margin than in subsequent votes, and that’s why it was adopted by the government.
Two new committees on classroom conditions and inclusion
The bill also establishes a council to improve classroom conditions with a budget of $20 million over two years to address that issue.
There will also be a three-person commission on inclusive education that will be launched within 30 days of the contract being passed. The commission is expected to submit an interim report by June 30, which will leave enough time for recommendations to be implemented for the upcoming school year.
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Casey said she believed teachers would see that the government is serious about working with them to address their classroom concerns.
“Students need supports, teachers need supports, and we believe that this legislation and the structure of this legislation will allow that to happen,” she said.
But union president Liette Doucet said her membership would be angered by the imposition of a deal that actually loses the minor gains contained in the most recently rejected deal.
“They were already upset about the fact that they were not getting a cost of living increase and so now that has been made worse,” she said.
Doucet also said there were no concrete steps taken to immediately remedy classroom concerns.
“There are no significant classroom improvements in this bill at all,” Doucet said.
Limiting future work-to-rule job action
Under the bill, teachers would be prevented from withdrawing some services while at school, a move related to such things as staff meetings and professional development. Participation in voluntary activities such as coaching sports teams would be left to an individual teacher’s discretion.
The change would ensure that two sections of the Education Act take precedence when teachers are in the classroom. The government said this was needed because during the current work-to-rule the union and the province have disagreed on what elements of teaching teachers are allowed to withdraw while in a legal strike position.
For example, the change would force teachers to still accept student teachers in any future work-to-rule. Five universities have taken the union to court over its refusal to accept student teachers during the current job action.
There is also a commitment to examine class sizes at the junior and senior high levels and to look at the creation of a program to help teachers access their long-service awards prior to retirement, although the retirement bonuses would remain frozen.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said his party would not support a government bill he described as “odious.”
“Adding more committees and more bureaucracy – the time is past for that. That’s why teachers don’t trust them and parents don’t trust them to actually make change.”
NDP Leader Gary Burrill panned the legislation calling it the “Slap in the Face Act.”
“What there ought to have been from the beginning was competent negotiations,” he said.
The government planned to table the bill in the legislature at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
It’s expected it will take a week or more to pass it into law.
The union is demanding its members be allowed to speak when the opportunity comes to propose amendments.
– With files from Marieke Walsh, Global News