Nova Scotia to close public schools as teachers take job action

The Nova Scotia Liberal government vows to force a contract on teachers Monday, the same day the union intends to start job action.

Political opposition vows to fight Liberal 'bullying tactics' of forcing contract on union

Education Minister Karen Casey said she has decided to close schools province-wide but teachers are still expected to report to work. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

All Nova Scotia public schools will be closed Monday as the Liberal government throws a wrench into teacher plans to take job action over recently failed contract negotiations.

Education Minister Karen Casey has decided to close schools province-wide but teachers are still expected to report to work, she told reporters at a press conference Saturday morning.

She said the province is not locking out teachers. The Liberal government says it intends to try to impose a contract on the union.

Teachers in the province are getting ready to begin work-to-rule job action starting Monday morning, which will change the regular school activities for students across the province.

'Unsafe environment'

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union has directed educators to only go to school 20 minutes before class and leave 20 minutes after class, and not volunteer to supervise breaks.

The union has said it is taking precautions for student safety, like having principals available, but the province has disagreed.

"Job actions could put students in unsafe environment," Casey said.

"Students could be left unsupervised. That's unacceptable."

Hundreds of students walked out of Citadel High School Friday to show their support for their teachers. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

The short-notice announcement has left parents scrambling for urgent childcare. Both English and French school boards are affected.

'Heavy-handed'

Union president Liette Doucet called the province's actions "heavy-handed" after the announcement Saturday.

"I would characterize [the move as] a means to create some division with the public, who's supporting teachers, to make it seem like teachers were not going to ensure student safety," she said.

"We've made it pretty clear that our first priority was student safety."

By early Saturday evening, the union's executive said educators will be at schools for work on Monday. They will meet again Sunday evening to discuss. 

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet calls the province's move 'heavy-handed.' (CBC)

On Monday, the Nova Scotia House of Assembly will reconvene and the Liberal government will introduce a bill to impose a contract on the province's 9,300 teachers.

It's the deal members rejected Sept. 2.

Education Minister Karen Casey says teachers will be back to work as usual if the legislation passes. (CBC)

Because the proposed law will establish a new contract between teachers and the province, it will also remove teachers' ability to work-to-rule or strike.

Casey said in the meantime teachers are expected to show up to work, and as soon as legislation passes, "they'll be back to work as usual."

Vow to stall 'bullying tactics'

Leaders from both opposition political parties vowed to stall the legislation as long as possible. 

Official opposition Leader Jamie Baillie of the Progressive Conservative Party accused the Liberals of "making up" safety concerns.

We will use the legislature to express our complete opposition to bullying tactics. We're voting no.- Jamie Baille , opposition leader

"This is condemning students to time without classrooms, it's condemning taxpayers to years and millions of dollars in litigation and no classroom condition is going to be improved," he said.

"We will use the legislature to express our complete opposition to bullying tactics. We're voting no."

Official opposition Leader Jamie Baillie, left, and NDP Leader Gary Burrill vow to stall the Liberal's attempt to impose a contract on teachers. (CBC)

New Democratic Party Leader Gary Burrill called the suggestion that teachers would jeopardize student safety "tremendously insulting" since teachers have asked for more in-school support for years.

"What the government has said to them today is 'shut up and get back to work,'" he said.

"It's anti-democratic, it's anti-education and it's anti-moral."

Talks between teachers and the Nova Scotia government broke off Nov. 25.

Read more about the province's position:

Nova Scotia school board feedback on safety

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Liberal government's notice to educators

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Liberal government's notice to the Nova Scotia Teachers Union

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With files from Jean LaRoche, Anjuli Patil, Carly Stagg and Stephanie vanKampen

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