Nova Scotia's 9,300 public school teachers got their first look at the latest contract offer from the province Tuesday with union leaders telling them it was "the best deal that was available."
The four-year deal is worth an extra $60 million, but it was given a lukewarm reception, at best, from teachers who learned of its details during a conference call with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.
The offer doesn't change the plan for the long-service award, which is the benefit paid out upon retirement for existing teachers. Anyone hired after July 2015 is not eligible for the benefit.
The deal also changes the way the three per cent wage increase is paid out.
The wage freeze would last 20 months instead of 24 months. By moving up when the hikes come, the result is an increase of $17.2 million for salary over four years, teachers were told during the conference call.
Depending on a teacher's licence level, that can amount to between an additional $1,800 to $2,300 during the life of the deal.
Commission to review inclusion
Teachers will also get two days of paid leave per school year, worth $8 million, and additional time for marking and class prep, worth $12.5 million.
The partnership for dealing with workplace conditions and concerns, which includes members of the union and the Education Department, will get $20 million over two years to address challenges teachers face on the job. It would have the ability to use an arbitrator if members cannot agree on potential changes.
The deal would also include a commission to review inclusive education. The commission would include representation from the government, union and an independent member. It would review funding, resource accountability and allocation, professional development, alignment of initiatives and how and when and under what process it should continue to be reviewed.
That review would be due within one year of the commission's appointment.
Vote coming Feb. 8
Existing classroom size caps — currently only in place for Primary to Grade 6 — would stay the same for two years. The union had wanted hard caps for all grades and changes to existing caps.
Teachers have been without a contract since July 31, 2015. They are scheduled to vote on the new offer Feb. 8.
The latest deal was reached early in the morning of Jan. 18, but the union waited two days before announcing it and recommending its members accept the offer. Union executive members will spend the coming weeks touring the province to meet with teachers to discuss the deal.
During a union-hosted conference call, many teachers expressed concern with the deal and argued it did not reflect what the membership wanted to see in a contract. There was anger about the long-service award not being saved, a lack of a greater salary increase and no concrete changes to increasing amounts of paperwork and data entry teachers face.
Some teachers raised the question of a legal challenge and expressed frustration at the union pausing work-to-rule job action before they were able to see the details of the contract.
Faced with the spectre of the government possibly legislating a wage package if the deal is not accepted, legal counsel for the union advised members during the conference call that a court challenge would be difficult because of the number of days of bargaining and conciliation under the government's belt.
Third tentative deal in 14 months
The vote result will have wide-ranging implications regardless the outcome.
If rejected, it would be the third offer shot down in 14 months and the second one recommended by the current executive. Such an outcome would inevitably raise questions about the union's ability to negotiate on behalf of its members.
If accepted, the financial terms could carry over to negotiations with civil servants and health-care workers. Civil servants have already rejected a financial package identical to the last one teachers voted down.
Were teachers to accept the new agreement, the government would likely argue it sets a wage pattern for all remaining unions without a contract.