Education

5 N.S. universities take NSTU to Supreme Court

University association says work-to-rule action breaches the Education Act, leaving 600 students in limbo

[media-credit name=”All photos courtesy of the universities involved. Compilation by The Signal” align=”alignnone” width=”726″][/media-credit]

Five members of the Association of Atlantic Universities announced today they will be taking the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) to the province’s Supreme Court.

Acadia, Cape Breton University, Mount Saint Vincent, St. Francis Xavier and Sainte-Anne have all launched legal action against the teachers’ union in response to the NSTU’s Dec. 5, 2016 work-to-rule job action.

The association’s press release said these universities are seeking a declaration that the job action, with its directive that “teachers will not accept or supervise student teachers, fill out assessments from external agencies unless required by law,” is in violation of Section 31 of the Education Act.

Section 31 requires teachers to admit student teachers into classrooms and supervise and evaluate their required practicum, the release said. The association is asking for an injunction that would force teachers to return to those duties.

“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,” said Kent MacDonald, president and vice-chancellor of St. Francis Xavier University in the press release. “If the job action continues, nearly 300 of our students will not graduate on time, causing harm and risk to their future careers.”

The Signal reached out to MacDonald for further comments, but he did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the press release, a separate motion was filed seeking an emergency injunction to mitigate harm to student teachers caused by the Work-to-Rule job action, so they can commence their Teacher Practicum.

Between all five institutions, nearly 600 education students have been “directly affected by the NSTU’s directive,” the release said.

The five universities contacted the provincial government and the teachers’ union in December “seeking a remedy to this urgent matter.”

On Dec. 22, Jan. 9, and Jan. 13, the association corresponded with union officials and sought either an “immediate face-to-face meeting or teleconference call with university presidents to resolve this situation.”

According to the press release, “the NSTU did not respond favourably to this reasonable request.”

The Signal reached out the NSTU for a comment, but they also did not respond as of press time.

The release said that leaders from each university told the teachers’ union that the timely resolution of the situation was critical to “negating any potential hardship for education students, including not completing program criteria required for graduation in 2017, achieving teacher certification and future professional standing.”

With regards to this case, retired Saint Mary’s University management professor Larry Haiven says these types of emergency injunctions rarely work out in favour of students.

Haiven, a labour advocate, says the charge of “irreparable damage” will be a difficult one for these universities to argue.

“It really revolves around the right to strike,” he says. “Governments and the courts have limited powers to order workers to stop striking.”

Haiven says the universities would have to prove that “damage which cannot be remedied,” was caused by the strike.

He says the concerns of students and their institutions are valid, but that other options are available to students that could help resolve this issue.

“I’ve never seen a case where a strike permanently damaged and irreparably damaged students’ futures,” he says.

The courts will likely view this issue as “temporary versus permanent and irreparable damage,” says Haiven.

He reasons this is the question the courts will have to consider “before they grant any kind of injunction.”