Education

Teachers celebrate, call on N.S. government to negotiate

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union demands the province ‘actually negotiate’ to reach an agreement

Demonstrators demand the government come back to the bargaining table.   Bronwen McKie

Hundreds of Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) supporters rallied outside Province House on Tuesday to demand better working conditions for NSTU members in the ongoing contract dispute.

“A rally is a time to be as loud as possible,” said NSTU president Liette Doucet to the crowd. “We need to ensure this government comes back to the table to negotiate with teachers.”

Besides protesting, supporters also celebrated the government’s decision on Monday to withdraw a labour contract bill from legislature that would have forced a new work contract on teachers. They also celebrated having students back in school, after the provincial government cancelled school on Monday.

This was done because the government said the NSTU’s work-to-rule directive, which started on Monday, was unsafe. As part of the directive, teachers will only do tasks related to classroom learning; they arrive 20 minutes before school starts and leave 20 minutes after it ends. The government said this would lead to unsupervised conditions and endanger some students.

Concerts, class trips and extracurricular activities are also cancelled.

The government opened schools on Tuesday, saying school staff would interpret the NSTU directive to ensure student safety. Teachers are still following work-to-rule.

“As of today (Monday), we are confident that the (NSTU) has modified its directives to teachers in such a way that schools can now open safely,” Education Minister Casey said in a news release Monday.

Both the province and the NSTU have said they are willing to reach a new contract agreement through collective bargaining. The parties have attempted to negotiate multiple times, including with a conciliator, but haven’t yet reached a resolution.

Premier Stephen McNeil has said he wants to reach an agreement, but that the NSTU’s demands are unreasonable and too expensive.

“(The) government is ready and willing to continue negotiations with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union,” said provincial government spokesperson Tina Thibeau in an email Tuesday, echoing McNeil’s comments from interviews on Tuesday.

McNeil also expressed confidence in Casey amid demands for her resignation.

Supporters shout slogans calling for the education minister to resign.   Bronwen McKie

But “negotiate don’t dictate” and “hey, ho, Karen Casey’s got to go” were continuously chanted at the rally. The NSTU and its supporters believe the government is not taking teachers’ concerns seriously and are only willing to negotiate on their own terms.

“We don’t want (the Liberals) back at the table to pretend they will negotiate; we want them to come back and actually negotiate,” said Doucet.

There is no word yet on what will happen next in the contract dispute or how long the apparent stalemate could last.

The NSTU and the Liberals have blamed each other for apparent miscommunication that led to the school cancellation. It is not clear what happened.

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