Nova Scotia

5 universities taking legal action against Nova Scotia Teachers Union over work-to-rule

Five universities are taking legal action against the Nova Scotia Teachers Union over work-to-rule, saying the ongoing job action is a threat to the careers of future teachers enrolled in education programs across the province.

Job action threatening future careers of education students, say universities

Five Nova Scotia universities are taking legal action against the NSTU over work-to-rule job action. (Getty Images)

Five universities are taking legal action against the Nova Scotia Teachers Union over work-to-rule, saying the ongoing job action is a threat to the careers of future teachers enrolled in education programs across the province. 

Acadia University, Cape Breton University, Mount Saint Vincent University, St. Francis Xavier University and Université Sainte-Anne filed papers Monday in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

"The urgency of this situation required the matter be placed before the Supreme Court as the best way to stand up for students and protect their interests," Kent MacDonald, president and vice-chancellor of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, said in a news release from the Association of Atlantic Universities.

"If the job action continues, nearly 300 of our students will not graduate on time, causing harm and risk to their future careers."

Ticking clock

To graduate with a bachelor of education in Nova Scotia, students require a minimum of 15 weeks of practicum.

"That clock on those 15 weeks started to tick in early January when they were supposed to be within the classroom in their respective practica," MacDonald said later in an interview. 

"So each day and each week that passes that these students are not allowed back into the class to fulfil their obligations to graduate brings them closer to not being able to graduate on time and delays their entry into the profession."

Several Nova Scotia universities are alleging the teachers' union is in violation of the Education Act by not accepting or supervising student teachers. (CBC)

The news release said the legal action alleges the union is in violation of the Education Act by not accepting or supervising student teachers. Section 31 of the act requires teachers to admit student teachers into their classrooms, as well as supervise and "give them any assistance requested by the instructors."

Union denies violating Education Act

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet denied the union is violating the Education Act.

"We are in a legal strike position which gives us the right to do that," Doucet told reporters.

"I understand that the students are concerned. I understand that the universities are concerned. They contacted us to meet with us and we got back to them and asked what they were doing by way of a contingency plan. However, we have not heard back from them."

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet denied the union is violating the Education Act. (CBC)

The universities said in the news release the union "did not respond favourably" to repeated requests for a face-to-face meeting or teleconference call with university presidents to resolve the matter.

Work-to-rule ongoing

Public school teachers in the province launched work-to-rule on Dec. 5 as part of a bitter contract dispute with the provincial government.

The job action was suspended briefly last week after both sides reached a tentative deal, but teachers resumed work-to-rule Monday after the union accused Premier Stephen McNeil of reneging on a key contract promise.

'Irreparable harm'

The universities have also filed a separate motion seeking an emergency injunction to allow student teachers to return to the classroom immediately so they can continue their year.

The release said student teachers and the reputations of the affected universities and their education programs face "irreparable harm" because of work-to-rule.

Nearly 600 education students enrolled in the five universities are directly affected by the union's actions, said the release.

"We have now reached the point where students in these particular programs are at risk of losing their year or delaying the opportunity for them to graduate and join the same profession of which NSTU members belong," said MacDonald.

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca

With files from Jean Laroche