Nova Scotia teachers reject 'conditional bargaining'
Province agreeable to conciliation board if salaries, service awards off the table
An effort to restart labour negotiations between Nova Scotia teachers and the province has stalled as the two sides disagree what should be on the table if the parties go to a conciliation board.
The Nova Scotia Teachers Union last week requested conciliation, but on Tuesday the province said the union had walked away.
The government has said it will not discuss salaries or the long service award, unless teachers are willing to find savings elsewhere. The union said it wants no limits placed on the talks.
"We're not looking for conditional bargaining. We're looking for collective bargaining," said Liette Doucet, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. "When you go to a conciliation board you're supposed to be able to discuss everything."
'They chose not to go'
Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. is the deadline for both sides to agree to a conciliation board. Each side is blaming the other for not moving forward.
Premier Stephen McNeil reiterated his government's claim during question period Tuesday that teachers are not losing money in the government's most recent offer, which was rejected by teachers last month.
"We have said we would go to the table and they chose not go," McNeil said.
McNeil said the teachers union had conditions of its own in order to head to conciliation. The union will not release the letter it sent to government outlining the items it wanted to discuss.
"They only wanted to talk about salaries and the classroom conditions so we said we would talk about the classroom conditions," McNeil said.
"We also said we will put compensation on the table providing you understand that if you want to increase salaries or keep that benefit you have to find us savings within your benefits package."
'I was disappointed'
A conciliation board would bring both sides together and eventually report on whether an agreement might be struck. Its recommendations are not binding.
In a news release, Education Minister Karen Casey said by declining the opportunity to convene a conciliation board, the teachers union is also dismissing the opportunity to find savings to meet their compensation demands.
In her letter to the union, Casey said a government committee on working conditions will go ahead with a plan to meet next week, regardless of whether teachers agree to a conciliation board.
"There's mixed messages out there from the teachers. Many of them say it is working conditions. We're hearing that," Casey said.
Neither side wants strike
Doucet said she hopes the education minister will change her mind and agree to a conciliation board with everything on the table. She said arbitration and mediation are still options.
"I know that we are committed to finding a solution. We don't want a work stoppage. I can't speak for the other side. I would hope that they would have the same wish," Doucet said.
Casey said she doesn't want a strike.
"I certainly will do whatever we can to protect the students in the classroom and that would be our goal forward," Casey said.
Jamie Baillie, leader of the Official Opposition, said the government is playing games.
"If they don't have enough confidence in their own case to go to an independent conciliation board, then we have a real problem," said the PC Party leader.
Baillie said putting conditions on an independent conciliation board defeats the whole purpose of having a third party look at the issue.
"By playing these games before they even get started it just drives us that much closer to, unfortunately, a strike," he said.
With files from Michael Gorman and Jean Laroche