Nova Scotia extends olive branch to teachers as strike vote looms
Education minister asks for workplace conditions committee to begin its work, commits support
Against the backdrop of a looming strike vote by the province's 9,000 teachers, the provincial government is asking to move ahead with plans to address workplace concerns.
On Monday, Education Minister Karen Casey wrote to Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet recommending a committee, dubbed the partnership on systemic working conditions, begin meeting by the end of the month. The group would include representatives from the department, union and school boards.
At Province House, Casey said it's important for teachers to have a forum for their concerns to be addressed.
A good idea is a good idea
"It was something that both negotiating teams believed was the right thing to do," she said. "It wasn't ratified, that deal, [but] that doesn't mean that it is not the right thing to do, so we want to continue down that path."
Casey said she doesn't think the issue needs to be held up by the labour impasse.
"We don't need a negotiating table, we don't need a contract to deal with what's important to teachers."
The minister said they weren't negotiating when her government capped class sizes or hired more teachers.
Minister commits support
The committee was part of the last contract offer teachers rejected, the second time they've voted down a tentative agreement in the last year. One of the concerns some teachers expressed was that the committee wouldn't have any teeth.
On Tuesday, Casey committed whatever support would be required to address concerns identified by the committee, again referring to prior spending to cap class sizes and hire more teachers.
"We've demonstrated that if there's a concern, if it makes the life of the teacher and the student better, we will invest in that."
Union will respond soon
Meanwhile, teachers have been meeting around the province this week to discuss next week's strike vote.
Doucet said she would respond to Casey on Wednesday and at that point express her thoughts on the idea in more detail.
"We're still talking about it and our members don't really know about it yet," she said. "I was glad to receive [Casey's letter]."
Undecided members, planning next steps
Doucet said the meetings this week are to explain the strike vote, what it means and answer any questions teachers have going into the vote on Tuesday.
"Some members are undecided as to how they're going to vote," she said.
Despite any indecision, the union is calling for a strong "yes" vote. It's also encouraging members to contact their local MLA and share messages via social media. Doucet said there are a variety of options for teachers if they vote in favour of a strike, including a work-to-rule situation.
'Teachers don't want to strike'
In the event of a "yes" vote, union officials would meet next week to discuss next steps and request a meeting with the minister. While the situation appears on the brink, Doucet said it isn't too late for something to change.
"Teachers don't want to go on strike. Teachers want to be in front of their students. So if we can solve the issue before that happens, then we will absolutely do that."
With files from Jean Laroche