Nova Scotia

No pre-primary classes in Annapolis Valley, South Shore as school support workers continue strike

School support workers at the Annapolis Valley Regional Centre for Education and the South Shore Regional Centre for Education went on strike this week seeking equal pay.

Education Minister says government supports concept of pay equity

Education workers picketting in Nova Scotia last year. Economists say new rounds of wage negotiations in 2023 and 2024 to catch up with inflation could themselves contribute to inflation.
Members of the Nova Scotia Government Employees' Union (NSGEU) Local 73 walk the picket line in the Annapolis Valley community of New Minas on Tuesday morning. The local represents educational assistants, early childhood educators and other school support staff. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

There are no pre-primary classes in the South Shore Regional Centre for Education or the Annapolis Valley Regional Centre for Education as school support staff continue to strike, demanding the same pay as workers doing the same jobs in other parts of the province. 

Nova Scotia Government Employees' Union (NSGEU) Local 70, which represents staff at SSRCE, and Local 73, which represents AVRCE staff, had been at the bargaining table for almost a year before voting to strike last week. Local 73 went on strike on Oct. 23 and Local 70 joined them on Oct. 24. 

Both bargaining units include a variety of school staff, like early childhood educators, educational assistants, administrative assistants and tech support. Local 73 has more than 600 members and Local 70 has 142 staff members.

"They are the glue that holds those schools together," said Sandra Mullen, NSGEU president. 

Mullen says a casual educational assistant starting at the AVRCE receives minimum wage, $13.60 an hour, while a worker in the same position in the Tri-County area covering Digby, Yarmouth and Shelburne gets $17 an hour. 

She says she was talking to a member on Tuesday morning who lives close to a county line. 

A woman with glasses stands outside in front of a big building.
Sandra Mullen outside the NSGEU building in Dartmouth. NSGEU represents educational assistants in the Annapolis Valley, Chignecto-Central, South Shore and Tri-County centres of education. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

"The person doing her exact job on the other side of the county line is making $8,000 more [per year]. She likened it to eight kilometres away, $8,000 more. That's not right," said Mullen. 

Mullen says the pay discrepancy is a holdover from the change from school boards to regional education centres.

"The previous government disbanded all the school boards as they were in an effort to make things more cohesive and to have things similar across the province," she said.

"This is one more part of that. They have to finish this, they have to make it right."

Schools providing support for students, say regional centres

Both the AVRCE and SSRCE say they recognize the strike has an impact on students and their families. 

Regional executive director of education with the AVRCE, Dave Jones, says principals are working to support students and their families. 

He says he visited a school this week, but the principal wasn't there.

"She was driving around the community dropping packages off to the students that weren't able to be in school," said Jones.

Jones says he could not comment on when the two sides might return to the bargaining table. 

"We're certainly open to more discussions and we hope to reach an agreement," he said.

Image of Becky Druhan speaking into a mic.
Education Minister Becky Druhan answers questions from reporters on Tuesday. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

In an email to CBC, South Shore Regional Centre for Education spokesperson Ashley Gallant said students support workers and SchoolsPlus community outreach workers are also part of Local 70.

"We recognize many students depend on these staff regularly and through our contingency plans, SSRCE staff will prioritize the most vulnerable students and work to provide them with support," writes Gallant.

N.S. government says it supports pay equity

Tuesday at the legislature, Education Minister Becky Druhan told reporters that her government and her department support pay equity. 

"The parties at the table are the regions and the union. But I understand that what has been tabled does provide a path to that pay equity," she said. 

"So we're supportive of that concept, we're supportive of that goal and we're hopeful that the parties can get back together and get there."

with files from Michael Gorman