Nova Scotia

NSTU says it's going to court to enforce arbitrator's ruling on specialists

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) is turning to the Supreme Court in an effort to enforce an arbitrator's ruling that speech language pathologists, school psychologists and school social workers should be covered by the union's professional agreement.

A court ruling last month found the provincial government breached the union's collective agreement

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Paul Wozney says the government is disregarding an arbitrator's ruling. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) is turning to the Supreme Court in an effort to enforce an arbitrator's ruling that speech language pathologists, school psychologists and school social workers should be covered by the union's professional agreement.

In a ruling issued last month, arbitrator Eric Slone found the provincial government breached the union's collective agreement when it made the decision to no longer require specialists working in schools to obtain special teaching certificates.

Slone ordered the specialists back into the union, that special certificates again be issued and that the government cover the cost of retroactive dues payments for those workers.

But in a memo to union members on Thursday, union officials said some specialists are still being told by their employers that:

  • They will remain outside the union.
  • The Education Department has declined to reinstate the special certificate application information on the website.
  • The registrar won't provide application material to specialists seeking information on how to apply for a special certificate.

Teachers union president Paul Wozney said he was "baffled" by the situation.

"For all intents and purposes, the government has shrugged its shoulders at a judicial order and carried on business as it intended," he said in an interview.

Province still reviewing the matter

The union is seeking an urgent hearing with Slone, who retained jurisdiction following his ruling, to discuss the matter. Wozney said they will also register the arbitration award as a court order with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

"I'm no lawyer, but I don't think I would want to be found in contempt of court at the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia," he said.

In a statement, Labour Relations Minister Mark Furey said the government "has not made definitive statements regarding next steps.

"Government is taking the necessary time to review the decision and the resulting impacts to students, our system and the individual employees involved."

At the time of the change in 2018, the deputy education minister said the province would allow specialists to work through the summer and meet the needs of students, regardless of whether school was in session.

Education Minister Zach Churchill says the changes were intended to ensure students had services when they needed them, even when school isn't in session. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Education Minister Zach Churchill stood by the view even after Slone's ruling, noting that 300 students on a waiting list for specialist support services received help last summer. He said the government is acting in the interest of students and argued Slone's ruling would negatively affect services.

"We know that mental-health needs do not stop in the summertime," Churchill told reporters last month.

But Wozney called that view "a false narrative," noting teachers can and some do work through the summer as negotiated through the collective agreement. There's nothing preventing that from happening with specialists, he said.

"There is a way to do what the government says needs to be done through negotiation," Wozney said.

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