The provincial government says a number of workplace issues raised during contract talks with the union representing Nova Scotia's public school teachers don't belong in negotiations or are simply too expensive to happen all at once. 

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union said Monday it will begin work-to-rule job action starting Dec. 5, meaning teachers will only do the minimum amount of work required under their contact. 

The announcement follows failed conciliation meetings last week between the government and the union. The union walked away from the table Friday, questioning the province's commitment to dealing with workplace concerns.

Breaking down the asks and annual costs

The government released a breakdown Monday of the union's work condition demands, along with costs calculated by provincial officials. The province said the demands will cost $171 million a year.

If the government and teachers reach a four-year agreement, it would be retroactive to 2015. It means the total cost of work condition demands would be $342 million over the final two years of the agreement.

The breakdown:

  • Planning time: Teachers want an additional 90 minutes per week for non-teaching tasks. The government estimates it would cost $42 million based on the additional staff it would require.
  • Prep time: Union wants an additional day's pay in the event teachers' lost prep time is not replaced within 10 days. Government estimates this will cost $28 million, based on the assumption this happens five per cent of the time over the course of a year when substitutes are not available.
Class room

Teachers are scheduled to begin work-to-rule job action next Monday. (iStock)

  • Assessment coverage: Teachers want to be replaced by substitutes when conducting individual assessments. The estimated cost is $1.2 million, which the government has suggested go to the workplace condition partnership committee, dubbed the partnership on systemic working conditions.
  • Partnership committee change: The union wants a binding dispute resolution for the committee built into the contract. The government says the committee is supposed to be collaborative, not confrontational, and won't allow education decisions to be ruled on by a third party.
  • Photocopying: The union wants non-teaching staff to bulk photocopy. The government is suggesting this go to the workplace committee for discussion. It estimates it would cost $13 million based on hiring one new person for every school in the province.
Premier Stephen McNeil

Premier Stephen McNeil spoke to reporter Saturday about the "huge gap" between government and teachers in contract negotiations. (CBC)

  • Data entry: The union no longer wants teachers to have to enter data into software programs TIENET or PowerSchool. The government estimates this would cost $13 million based on hiring one new person for each school.
  • Attendance policy: The union wants non-teaching staff to contact parents by phone about student absences. The government is suggesting this go to the workplace committee for discussion and estimates it would cost $13 million based on hiring one new person for every school in the province.
  • Individual program plans: The union wants to restrict the number of students on individual program plans to a maximum of three per class. The government says this could cost up to $20 million based on current numbers and the need to hire more teachers.
Teachers protest

Teachers and their supporters have been participating in rallies at MLAs' offices around the province. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

  • Assessments: The union wants no new provincewide or board assessments without mutual agreement from the union, but the government says this request is a non-starter.
  • New initiatives: The union wants no new initiatives introduced without agreement from the union, something the government also calls a non-starter.
  • Class caps: The union wants hard caps for primary to Grade 2 (20, currently 22); grades 3-6 (25, currently 27); grades 7-9 (28, currently none); and grades 10-12 (32, currently none). The government says putting class caps in a contract is a non-starter because it would be virtually impossible to change at a later date. It estimates the cost at $41 million. Education Minister Karen Casey has said class caps would continue to be rolled out on a yearly basis and be based on what the government can afford.

Both sides ready to talk, but no talks scheduled

There is a large gap between what the union wants and what the government is offering.

The government is proposing $10 million a year for two years for the partnership on systemic working conditions to use as it sees fit. Provincial officials say it's intended as a sign of good faith, but union president Liette Doucet says it needs to be significantly higher.

Doucet would not comment Monday on the numbers put out by the province, saying it is for the government to address. The union, however, has not disputed the figures.

No new talks are scheduled, despite both sides saying they are willing to resume negotiations.