Shelburne County teachers add their voices to province-wide walkout
SHELBURNE COUNTY, N.S. – For the first time in its 122-year history, the NSTU held a teachers' strike on Friday, Feb. 17.
Jamie Baillie, the provincial Progressive Conservative leader.
HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s opposition leader says Premier Stephen McNeil has made a mess of the ongoing labour dispute with the province’s unionized public school teachers.
Speaking Jan. 27 moments after the Nova Scotia Teachers Union announced it is resuming work-to-rule on Jan. 30, Jamie Baillie said this situation should’ve been addressed a long time ago.
“It’s unbelievable what’s going on, truly shocking,” Baillie said. “This is all at Stephen McNeil’s feet. He has fumbled this from the beginning. This should have ended a year ago with a fair deal and classroom improvements. Now we know he can’t be trusted to work this out.”
Earlier Friday afternoon, teachers union president Liette Doucet said work-to-rule would resume Monday morning following comments Thursday by the premier. She accused him of backing away from commitments made in a tentative agreement reached last Friday that saw the union suspend its work-to-rule campaign.
The PC leader said the government agreed to personal days for teachers, but the premier went public telling parents the opposite.
“He told parents the two days were for marking when at the same time he told teachers they were personal days. That’s why the teachers can’t trust him and it’s why parents can’t trust him,” Baillie said. “It’s a big mess and it requires a big solution, a change in government and a fresh start.”
Baillie said it’s frustrating to think that students, teachers and parents are paying a price for McNeil’s incompetence on the education file. He said he would have put real classroom reforms on the table at the start of negotiations including changes to discipline and attendance policies as well as real mental health supports.
“I believe a sincere effort at classroom reform would have resulted in a deal,” Baillie said.
Premier Stephen McNeil issued a statement late Friday afternoon saying his government was never talking about vacation days.
"I think any reasonable Nova Scotian would expect that when teachers were telling us that classroom conditions were the focus of negotiations, any discussion of more time away from the students would centre on things like marking and preparation. At no time was government talking about vacation days," the premier said in a statement.
McNeil said this is the third negotiated settlement with two different union executives and it includes a commitment for a partnership with the NSTU to address classroom conditions.
Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn says students are being lost in the contract negotiations between the province and teachers union, which took another turn for the worse Friday.
As education critic for the Progressive Conservative Party, Dunn said he knows union members are frustrated with classroom conditions, but work to rule and the uncertainty of the contract negotiations are causing a disruption in the lives of the students.
“I think both sides are making a mess of it,” he said. “The kids are getting hit from both sides.”
Dunn said local teachers have told him they would rather be in the classroom doing their jobs than be given two personal days in the proposed contract.
“They (the province) should take the money they were willing to spend on substitutes for those two days and put that into the classroom,” he said.
The proposed contract also states that $20 million would be used to form a committee that would look into fixing the problems in the classroom, yet, Dunn said, the province doesn’t seem to want teachers, who are on the front lines, to be part of this group.
He said they should spend a small amount of time with teachers to find out what needs to be done and put that $20 million into the classrooms to help with the solutions.
“They don’t have to spend one cent to find what is wrong with the classroom, they just have to ask the teachers about what is working and not working.”
Dunn said there also seems to be a disconnect between the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and its members.
“I have been sensing frustration since the second vote and people are asking why can’t they come to a conclusion that will benefit the students more than anyone?” he said. “The government is saying it is willing to improve classroom situations, but it doesn’t seem to get to that point.”