Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia premier slams 'huge gap' in teachers' union talks

The Nova Scotia premier described a "huge gap" between the province and teachers in contract negotiations on Saturday.

Two sides show a 'substantial difference' in salary expectations, Stephen McNeil says

Members and supporters of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union protested Friday after talks broke off with the province. (Jean LaRoche/CBC)

The Nova Scotia premier described a "huge gap" between the province and teachers in contract negotiations on Saturday.

Talks broke off Friday between the two sides, with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union saying it expects job action by Dec. 5.

At a news conference Saturday morning, Premier Stephen McNeil presented two opposing proposals and the province's estimates for the cost of each.

'There is a huge gap here'

The provincial government is offering one worth $41 million and the union's offer would cost $508 million, according to government financial staff.

Working condition changes being proposed by teachers would cost an extra $340 million over four years, he said. 

The other factors in the union total include an estimated $140 million in wage increases and $28 million in long-term service awards, which McNeil described to be the sticking point of negotiations. 

"There is a substantial difference in what we believe the increase in salary should be and the long-service award," the premier said.

"There is a huge gap here."

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet said the union could not verify the contract proposal numbers quoted by the premier Saturday. (CBC)

Teachers' union president Liette Doucet said the union could not verify the government's numbers.

"The numbers came from the government. We don't have the numbers, we don't have the costing. That's the government that provides that," she said after the news conference.

Teachers are in a legal strike position as of Dec. 3, making Dec. 5 the first day of school that could be impacted by job action. The union has not stipulated what form the job action would take, if any. There has never been a provincewide strike or lockout of teachers.

The average teacher salary in Nova Scotia is about $76,000 a year.

The union, which represents more than 10,000 educators, saw its last contract expire in 2013.

The provincial government also has at its disposal legislation called Bill 148, which would allow the government to impose the financial terms of a contract. McNeil refused to say Saturday whether the province would do that.

Instead, McNeil said the province is looking into offering day programs for children in the event of a work stoppage.

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

The outcome of the contract negotiations will have long-reaching effects for other public servants.

The province has said its settlement with the teachers will be applied to the other civil service unions.

If the contract proposed by the teachers' union was applied to all public servants, teachers included, it would cost $1.5 billion, according to numbers calculated by government financial staff. The province's contract, applied the same way, would cost $176 million.

"I'm treating everyone equally and fairly, whether you're an elected member of this House or whether you're a member of the public service," McNeil said.

"I'm not going to put two classes of public servants, where I pay some more than others." 

Working group dispute

The teachers' union disputes details around funding for a committee of teachers and department employees regarding working conditions, Doucet said. 

The province went into negotiations on Monday, offering an additional $10 million for the group, the premier said. 

But the union said the government was unwilling to include a dispute mechanism for deciding how the money would be spent.

"If we can't agree as to how that $10 million gets spent, then it doesn't get spent," Doucet said.

Special education, class sizes

Both sides brought up the issue of special needs students in the classroom. Teachers want a limit on the number of students with specialized needs in the classroom, as well as more support staff to educate those students.

"Currently, teachers don't have enough time to assist the students the way they want to assist the students because they have so many students with special needs and very differing needs," Doucet said.

McNeil argued for an inclusion model.

"Inclusion belongs in our public education system, but what does that model look like in classrooms across this province? I think it's time for us to have that conversation," he said.

Government explanation of the two proposals:

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Government timeline of negotiations:

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With files from Stephanie vanKampen and Rachel Ward

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