Education

Job action ‘likely’ as teachers, province end contract talks

Hundreds of teachers and parents rally at MLA offices on Friday

The rally was one of five held at different Liberal MLA offices in Halifax on Friday.
A rally was held outside MLA Patricia Arab’s office on Friday. It was one of five held at different Liberal MLA offices across Halifax.   Haleigh Atwood

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) and the provincial government were unable to reach an agreement on Friday and announced the end of their conciliation period.

“We are disappointed,” NSTU president Liette Doucet said in a statement. “Teachers have been crystal clear; they want real, concrete improvements to the system.”

Doucet warns that job action will “likely” begin on Dec. 5. Teachers will be in a legal strike position as of Dec. 3, but they must allow 48 hours notice before job action can occur.  

Premier Stephen McNeil said in a statement that he was “disappointed that the Nova Scotia Teachers Union walked away from the negotiating table.”

The NSTU refused a government proposal that included an additional $10 million to improve classroom conditions, such as teaching loads and class sizes, according to the statement. McNeil said the union’s demands would cost taxpayers close to $500 million.

Teachers, parents rally together

Hours before the NSTU and the government revealed contract talks had broken off, hundreds of teachers and parents rallied at five Liberal MLA offices in Halifax.

Ryan Lutes, president of the NSTU’s Halifax city local, helped organize the rally in front of MLA Patricia Arab’s office in Fairview. Other rallies took place at the offices of Joanne Bernard, Ben Jessome, Tony Ince and Stephen Gough.     

“First and foremost we need classroom conditions to change,” Lutes said in an interview. “Teachers try to make do with what they’ve got, but they’re going home at the end of every day thinking ‘I could’ve done more.’”

Lutes and his wife are both teachers. He said they’re putting their family at risk by potentially going on strike, but believe it’s important to take a stand against current classroom conditions.

“I have an almost two-year-old daughter,” said Lutes. “I’m hoping that in three years when she’s in school things will be better. Right now, if a student is struggling, I’m not sure they’re getting what they need.”

Christopher Dawson teaches Grade 4 at Chebucto Heights Elementary. He said the classroom is changing and growing, but the number of teachers and their resources are staying the same.

“We don’t have enough resources for our kids,” said Dawson. “It’s their future and we’re passionate about what we’re teaching, but we’re not getting the support for it.”

The Nova Scotia Parents for Teachers group on Facebook started less than two months ago as a place for parents to discuss the potential strike and show support for teachers. So far, the online community has over 8,000 members.

Member Kate Ervine gave a speech on behalf of parents outside Arab’s office.

“We should be fighting for our teachers and we should be fighting for our children,” said told the crowd.

Ervine said she has talked with other parents about the possibility of pooling their resources and using one of their homes for child care if the strike leads to school closures.

“As a parent I’m going to be looking at what to do with my children,” Ervine said after the rally. “The parents I’m talking with all work; we all have jobs.”

On Tuesday, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development issued a notice warning parents and guardians to start planning for the possibility that their child may not be attending classes. School boards advise parents and guardians to monitor their websites for any updates.

The province reached a tentative agreement with the NSTU twice in the past year, but both times union members rejected the proposed deals. In October, 96 per cent of teachers voted in favour of a strike mandate.  

The government and the NSTU went back to the bargaining table on Nov. 17, in a final attempt to reach an agreement before the Dec. 3 deadline.