Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia labour minister to consider mediator in teachers labour dispute

Nova Scotia's labour minister is considering a request from the union representing Nova Scotia's public school teachers to appoint a mediator in an effort to stave off job action early next month.

Union's request came shortly after premier announced launch of government advertising campaign

If teachers decide to go on strike, they could be at the picket lines by Dec. 3. (iStock)

Nova Scotia's labour minister is considering a request from the union representing Nova Scotia's public school teachers to appoint a mediator in an effort to stave off job action early next month.

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union announced via Twitter late Thursday afternoon that president Liette Doucet had asked Labour Minister Kelly Regan to appoint a mediator to handle the dispute. 

Regan said officials in her office are now evaluating the likelihood mediation might help resolve the dispute between the province and the NSTU.

She said even if mediation goes ahead, it doesn't change the timeline for a possible strike.

"It doesn't necessarily delay the process. During the process the two parties might agree that there would be no job action taken during the process, but it doesn't necessarily delay it," said Regan.

She said she has to be convinced mediation has a chance of success before she'll agree to it. 

Opposition says nothing to lose by going back to the table

Official Opposition Leader Jamie Baillie is urging Regan to appoint a mediator.

"The alternative is a strike. Why not go to the table and see how far they can get. There's obviously a great deal of interest, at least in making our classrooms better. They can start there. We would all support that. Let's see how far they can get," said Baillie.   

The union's request came shortly after Premier Stephen McNeil announced the launch of a government advertising campaign to explain its position in the impasse.

McNeil said the campaign will include a series of Liberal Party-funded and government-funded ads, saying that he had personally voiced a party ad the day before.

The party ads are television and Facebook videos scheduled to run some time next week.

McNeil told reporters at Province House Thursday he wasn't sure how much either the party, or government, would be spending.

Job action could happen as early as Dec. 3

McNeil's tone has shifted this week from asking teachers what they want to a more pointed criticism of the benefits they enjoy.

"We believe we've delivered what is a fair package," he said. "If there is more required to be on the table, people need to explain where they want us to get that. Do they want us to take it out of health care? Do they want us to take it away from vulnerable Nova Scotians?"

He also took aim at the long-service award teachers receive when they retire or which their estates get if they die while still teaching. He said those are the kinds of benefits teachers can trade for other contract gains.

The earliest teachers could walk off the job is Dec. 3.

Baillie said the ad campaign shows the premier is more interested in "saving his own political skin" than solving the contract impasse.

"If he has money for [government] ads then he has money to improve the classroom," said Baillie.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said McNeil had adopted a more negative tone in recent days when talking about teachers' benefits and pay packages, and if he has a message to deliver, it should be done at the negotiating table.

Two sides can't agree

Attempts to move the dispute to conciliation were scuttled Tuesday when the sides couldn't agree on the terms for returning to talks.

The appointment of a conciliation board would have delayed job action while the board was at work, pushing back a potential strike.

Union members voted 96 per cent in favour of strike action last week after voting earlier last month to reject the province's latest contract offer — the second time this year they turned down a tentative agreement.

The rejected deal contained a two-year wage freeze, followed by a one per cent increase in the third year, a 1.5 per cent increase in the fourth year and a 0.5 per cent increase at the end of the fourth year.

With files from CBC News