Bill 75, a controversial piece of legislation to impose a contract on Nova Scotia's 9,300 public school teachers, has been passed into law.
It passed its third and final reading in the Nova Scotia legislature Tuesday afternoon after a marathon session that resumed at 12:01 a.m., after stretching around the clock for most of last week. The vote followed party lines, with all Liberal MLAs voting in favour and all opposition MLAs voting against.
Teachers and supporters picketed outside Province House on Tuesday afternoon to show their opposition to the bill. Protesters roared outside Province House and people in the legislature's gallery chanted "shame" at MLAs when the vote was complete. The gallery was cleared before proceedings quickly wrapped up.
Premier Stephen McNeil and Education Minister Karen Casey made their way to a waiting SUV, which was swallowed by protesters on Hollis Street. The vehicle was tied up for several minutes before police officers were able to clear a path.
The new contract imposes a three per cent wage increase over four years and freezes the long-service award for teachers as of July 2015. Anyone hired since that date is not eligible for the payout upon retirement.
It also creates a committee to review inclusive education and a committee, which includes nine teachers appointed by superintendents, to review classroom conditions and workplace concerns.
It follows the rejection by teachers of three tentative agreements between the union and government.
The president of the union, Liette Doucet, said teachers feel betrayed by McNeil's government and the bill erodes a fair collective bargaining process.
McNeil has defended the bill as necessary to end the teachers' work-to-rule job action that began in early December.
Both sides must work together: union
On Tuesday, Doucet said the two sides have to find ways to work together, and that includes hearing from teachers about their concerns and engaging the public.
"I believe that they have become very aware of what we're dealing with everyday in the classroom and I think that conversation needs to continue," she told reporters at Province House.
Doucet said the work-to-rule job action that has been in place since December has been about drawing attention to problems and finding solutions. The union will work with the government to find those solutions, she said.
"We'll do whatever it takes to ensure that education is better in this province going into the future."
End of work-to-rule
Passage of the bill brings an end to work-to-rule, meaning tasks such as data entry by teachers and attending staff meetings would resume. But Doucet said it would be up to teachers to decide what they will do in addition to the duties outlined in their contract.
"It's going to be up to individual teachers how they spend their time and what decisions they make when it comes to work-life balance."
The union is giving no directive to teachers regarding participation in non-contractual items, such as coaching, running clubs or leading school trips, said Doucet. She included offering extra help for students outside the regular school day as a non-contractual item.
"If teachers make decisions not to do those things, those will be very hard decisions for our teachers."
Classroom concerns moving forward
Education Minister Karen Casey appeared to be optimistic Tuesday about teacher-government relationships moving forward, pointing to the council to improve classroom conditions.
"We have heard from teachers through a lot of different mediums and we want teachers to be able to be part of solutions," Casey said.
"We know they have some good ideas and some good solutions as to how those issues can be addressed and how solutions can make meaningful change in the classroom."
On Tuesday, just before Bill 75 was passed, the province announced it would put an additional $3.4 million towards student support grants. The grants are directed towards services and programs at the school level ranging from class trips to uniforms for school sports teams and travel costs related to tournaments.
In a news release, the government said the sudden influx in funding was the result of the one-day unpaid strike by teachers on Friday.
And while both sides have pledged to find a way to work together to improve the system, the union has promised to launch a legal challenge against Bill 75