HALIFAX – The Nova Scotia Teachers Union will hold a one-day, provincewide strike on Friday — its first ever — to protest legislation imposing a four-year contract.
Union president Liette Doucet said she understands parents will be inconvenienced, but the union’s 9,300 members are “tired of this government bullying them.”
“It’s been 122 years and there has never been a full-out strike. It’s a historic moment in the history of the NSTU,” Doucet said at the legislature Wednesday.
“Right now teachers feel very disrespected. They are tired of Premier McNeil and his anti-education sentiments and they’re tiring of hearing the rhetoric from this government.”
Members of the legislature spoke all night and day Wednesday in an effort to slow down passage of the law — the Teachers Professional Agreement and Classroom Improvement Act — which would end a 16-month-long contract dispute.
Speaking at a Halifax Chamber of Commerce event Wednesday afternoon, McNeil said he has approached the labour dispute with an “open mind and an open heart.”
“I walked into a powder keg of 20 plus years of frustration,” said McNeil, responding to a question from the audience at his annual state of the province address.
“We as a province for far too long … have spent our growth before we’ve earned it. These contracts that we’re arguing about are actually talking about what I have today that I can invest today. It’s not about what I might think I’ll get two years from now or three years from now. That would be irresponsible of me.”
McNeil said the legislation will bring an end to disruptions caused by the teachers’ work-to-rule campaign, which began Dec. 5 and stipulates teachers should only report for work 20 minutes before class starts and leave 20 minutes after the school day ends.
“This was about trying to get some level of normalcy back to classrooms,” he told reporters.
The one-day strike comes at a time Nova Scotia parents are well-used to scrambling for child-care, following a series of snow days. Monday is also a provincial holiday.
Tory Opposition Leader Jamie Baillie said Wednesday he’d rather not see a strike, but teachers have reached the point where they are intensely frustrated by classroom conditions.
“When they (the government) keep appointing more committees, when they keep turning a blind eye to today’s classrooms, this is what inevitably happens and I think it’s on the premier’s shoulders that he’s pushed teachers to the breaking point,” he said.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said his party supports the strike action “115 per cent,” adding that McNeil should have considered arbitration as a solution to the impasse.
“Now, he has refused to respect collective bargaining and is forcing a rejected contract on teachers,” he said. “The premier must take responsibility for the situation we are in.”
The new contract contains a three per cent salary increase and incorporates many of the elements contained in the first two tentative agreements rejected by NSTU members.
The salary package includes zero per cent for the first two years, followed by increases of one per cent in the third year and 1.5 per cent in the fourth, with a 0.5 per cent increase on the last day of the agreement.
The bill also establishes a council to improve classroom conditions and a commitment of $20 million over two years to address that issue.
There will also be a three-person commission on inclusive education that will be launched 30 days after the bill is passed, with recommendations to be implemented by the beginning of the next school year.
Liberal house leader Michel Samson noted in the legislature that a quick passage of the legislation would avert Friday’s strike, but it would require unanimous support from all members.
Samson said there is public support for the bill.
“I think Nova Scotians will look at the fact that we had three tentative agreements that the union executive accepted. They had the option to walk away each time from the table, to call a strike, refuse to recommend it to its membership. It didn’t,” Samson told reporters.
He noted one Tory member said he received more phone calls telling him to support the legislation than phone calls telling him not to support it.
“We are hearing from teachers who are saying they are sick and tired of work-to-rule. They want an end to this and they are supporting the government’s efforts to put an end to this.”
Doucet said teachers will spend Friday protesting the province’s tactics.
“We understand that parents have been inconvenienced and on Friday they will be as well, however it is time to take a stand,” Doucet said Wednesday.
“They’ve been inconvenienced over the last two years and longer because their concerns for their children in the classroom have not been addressed by this government.”
The third tentative deal was rejected last week by a vote of 78.5 per cent.
The public was to have an opportunity to speak about the bill at the government’s law amendments committee Wednesday evening and Thursday.