PREMIER: Government to table legislation after third rejection by teachers of a contract deal

MacNeil announces Saturday evening he's asked Legislature to be called back on Monday


Published on February 11, 2017

Dec. 6 NSTU teacher rally in Yarmouth.

© Tina Comeau

HALIFAX – Two days after teachers rejected a third tentative agreement, the premier announced he has requested that the Legislature be called back on Monday so the government can table legislation that Stephen McNeil says, “will bring an end to this dispute as soon as possible.”

But the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, in a statement released shortly after the premier’s announcement Saturday evening, says a legislated contract will do nothing to improve the state of the schools “and will only further erode the trust between the teachers and this government.”

“Teachers have been taking a stand for better classroom conditions. They are tired of having their concerns ignored,” said NSTU president Liette Doucet. “Unfortunately the government has not been willing to make the needed investments to improve our education system. It’s clear Premier McNeil knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.”

The union's actions and directives have caused harm to students – to their learning outcomes, university and college ambitions, and athletic aspirations. This is not acceptable and can no longer continue. Premier Stephen McNeil

But the premier says after the rejection of three tentative agreements, “it is clear there is an impasse.”

“The strike action by the union has impacted students and their families for too long,” McNeil said in his Feb. 11 statement. “The union's actions and directives have caused harm to students – to their learning outcomes, university and college ambitions, and athletic aspirations. This is not acceptable and can no longer continue.

“I wrote the speaker and requested he call back the legislature on Monday, Feb. 13,” he said. “I want to assure Nova Scotians that I have done considerable soul searching. It is clear: we must bring an end to this dispute so the lives of students and parents can return to normal.”

But what “normal” is or should be, even if a contract is legislated, remains to be seen.

Nova Scotia Teachers Union presidcent Liette Doucet.
Jeff Harper/Metro

The union has been in a work-to-rule action since Dec. 5 – with the exception of one week in January when it was suspended. During work to rule teachers have only been doing what is included in their contract. Teachers say this has allowed them to focus their time on teaching students in the classroom by not having to do data input, attend meetings and volunteer for and/or running extra-curriculars, among other things.

On social media Saturday night, some teachers commenting on the ongoing situation were saying the government cannot legislate teachers to volunteer.

The loss of extra-curricular activities and school athletics has been lamented by many students and parents. In some cases parents have stepped in to organize events so they can continue. In other cases, although parents are already involved in volunteering with these extracurriculars the events and activities have not been allowed to proceed due to school board, school or NSSAF policies requiring NSTU supervision or involvement.

THIRD REJECTION

The third tentative agreement – which was also the third agreement the NSTU executive recommended that teachers accept – was rejected in a province-wide vote on Thursday with 78.5 per cent of those voting saying no to the deal.

The premier said Saturday that the latest deal “contained fair wage increases and made investments in classrooms. It showed we wanted to work with teachers to make our classrooms stronger.”

But teachers who voted against the deal obviously don’t agree with the premier’s assessment.

The day after the vote, Rollie Hannem, president of the Yarmouth local of the NSTU, said teachers felt this third agreement still didn’t address the concerns they have been raising concerns about.

Teachers have been saying that classroom conditions must be addressed, such as class sizes, lack of resources, teachers being spread too thin in their workloads, education department directives and other issues.

“They want something a little bit more immediate than talking for another year about inclusion or having to take things to a committee and we don’t know how long it would be,” Hannem said as an example.

Another issue, Hannem said, is different teachers have different needs, whether they teach at the elementary or high school level or perhaps as a specialist. Things can vary too, he said, based on location. What’s needed in Yarmouth might be different from what’s required in Cape Breton, he said.

Hannem expressed hope on Friday that the two sides – the government and the union – would continue talks.

 “Teachers want it settled and the government does and parents too,” he said. “We want what’s best for kids in the long run. That’s what it really comes down to because we know that our working conditions are their learning conditions.”

The province’s official opposition party, meanwhile, was swift in reacting to McNeil’s decision to call back the Legislature.

"Recalling the legislature is an admission of failure by Premier McNeil,” said PC party leader Jamie Baillie in a statement released Saturday evening. “The premier has repeatedly ignored the need for classroom improvements.”

Baillie said forcing a legislated contract on teachers will destroy the working relationship between the government and teachers.

“We oppose this desperate action by Premier McNeil,” he said. 

 

(With files by Eric Bourque.)