Nova Scotia

Teachers union won't rule out strike as debate opens on bill to impose contract

MLAs at Province House have started debating legislation to impose a contract on teachers, while the union is not ruling out a full strike before the bill passes.

Bill 75 comes following three rejected tentative agreements by teachers

MLAs have been in Province House since 8 p.m. on Tuesdsay when Bill 75 was introduced. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union would not rule out a full strike by her members as MLAs started the round-the-clock process of passing legislation to impose a contract on 9,300 public school teachers.

Liette Doucet told reporters at Province House on Tuesday night that teachers are upset and feeling demoralized by Bill 75.

"We are not happy about it, we are very angry about it," she said.

"[Teachers] are not seeing the changes that they were looking for in this [legislation]."

Bill 75 will end work-to-rule

Doucet would not say if parents and students should prepare for a full strike by teachers before the legislation is passed, likely next Tuesday.

"It remains an option," she said.

Teachers have engaged in work-to-rule job action since Dec. 5 other than for a few days  earlier this year. Once the bill is passed and a contract is in place, teachers are prevented from taking job action.

'Cross the floor'

Several hundred teachers and supporters gathered outside Province House for the first few hours of the process, listening to speeches, singing songs and chanting "cross the floor" in hopes of swaying any government members having second thoughts about the bill.

Premier Stephen McNeil said he was confident all MLAs wanted to see an end to work-to-rule, but would not say if he would whip the vote, or allow a free vote.  

The four-year contract is a combination of the three tentative agreements teachers have rejected in the last 15 months and includes a committee to examine workplace conditions, which will get $20 million over two years to look at a variety of concerns teachers have expressed. There will also be a review of the inclusion policy.

Not enough soon enough

But Doucet and other teachers were critical that not enough was being done soon enough. They pointed to the need for things such as an attendance policy and discipline policy, neither of which would cost money, they said.

"We've had committees, we've had commissions, we've done all this," said Judi Hutchinson, a guidance counsellor at Madeline Symonds Middle School.

"We do not need to spend money on these things. Just go and talk to any teacher — we know what needs to change and it needs to change now, not after we've spent millions of dollars talking about it again."

Changes coming soon

Education Minister Karen Casey said an attendance policy is now in draft form and waiting to go to teachers for their feedback. She said work-to-rule has prevented that from being done up to now.

"This is not an easy policy," the minister said in an interview.

"We wanted to make sure that we had something that was fair to all students. It's very difficult to get something that's fair to all students because all students bring different issues to the schools and everything is not always equal with the kids."

Students caught in the middle

In opening debate on the bill at about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, Casey noted that both the government and union "have argued they were representing the views of students and right now no one is being hurt more than students."

Debate on the bill continues through Wednesday and will likely move to the Law Amendments Committee on Thursday, when the public has the opportunity to make presentations to MLAs regarding the legislation.

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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