Nova Scotia

'It cannot continue': Liberals unveil legislation to force contract on teachers

When introduced in the legislature Tuesday night, Bill 75 will institute a three per cent wage increase and freeze the long-service award retroactive to July 2015.

Education Minister Karen Casey says the ongoing contract dispute is 'unacceptable'

Education Minister Karen Casey says the government had no choice since teachers have rejected three tentative agreements recommended by their union. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia government has unveiled legislation that will impose a new, four-year contract on the province's 9,300 public school teachers, ending their legal strike position.

When introduced in the legislature later today, Bill 75 will institute a three per cent wage increase and freeze the long-service award retroactive to July 2015.

The bill is a hybrid of three tentative agreements rejected by the teachers.

It takes away two days of paid leave and earlier raises gained in the third tentative agreement, which was rejected by teachers last week.

Coaching, grad planning optional

The bill will prevent teachers from withdrawing some services while at school like professional development and staff meetings.

However, teachers will not be forced to provide volunteer services, such as coaching, graduation planning and non-curricular school trips.

The government said it will investigate whether to give teachers an option to access long-service awards prior to retirement.

Casey says province had no choice

Education Minister Karen Casey said the government had no choice but to move forward with legislation since teachers have rejected three tentative agreements recommended by the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

Teachers have been working to rule since Dec. 5.

"We have been through 16 months of collective bargaining and two months of job action," Casey told reporters Tuesday.

"Many Nova Scotians — including students, families — find this unacceptable. It cannot continue."

The legislation also includes a commission on inclusive education and a council to improve classroom conditions.

The McNeil government has yet to reach deals with a number of public sector unions, including 7,000 civil servants, 1,000 highway workers and 24,000 health-care workers.

McNeil won't say if vote will be whipped

Speaking to the CBC's Tom Murphy, Premier Stephen McNeil would not say if it would be a whipped vote on the contract. 

McNeil said he hopes teachers will begin coaching sports, drama and other activities now that work-to-rule is coming to an end. 

"We didn't come to this lightly. I tried to negotiate three different agreements that I had agreement from the executive that obviously were defeated by the membership. We needed a level of normalcy back in the classrooms," McNeil said Tuesday. 

"There is no legislation that can force someone to do that, but I believe teachers, who have a passion for that, will go back into making sure those activities are there for kids."

McNeil was asked if his government would consider legislating the NSGEU contracts, too. He said he hoped to reach that deal at the bargaining table and to have union members vote for a deal acceptable to NSGEU negotiators. 

Asked if he would legislate the same three per cent raise on them, he responded: "We've made it very clear that we have a wage pattern that reflects Nova Scotians' ability to pay. This is a fair arrangement, a fair agreement, in our view."

'Slap in the Face Act'

NDP Leader Gary Burrill issued a news release Tuesday slamming the bill, called the Act Respecting a Teachers' Professional Agreement.

"A more accurate title of this act would be the Slap in the Face Act," he said, adding that it would do nothing for teachers "who have been crying out for help the last 15 months."

Meanwhile, Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie introduced two bills Tuesday night to improve classroom conditions.

One has to do with requiring school boards to "adopt comprehensive discipline policies" and the other would allow teachers to fail students.

Baillie also wants to see every school with mental health support for students.

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.

with files from Tom Murphy