N.S. to resume talks with teachers union, as NSGEU rejects tentative deal
Published Wednesday, December 14, 2016 2:55PM AST Last Updated Thursday, December 15, 2016 12:06PM AST
HALIFAX -- The Nova Scotia government made a bid for peace with the province's teachers union Wednesday, while another labour battle was brewing with public servants.
Premier Stephen McNeil asked the Nova Scotia Teachers Union to sit down with an "open mind" in a bid to reach an contract agreement for 9,000 public school teachers, the union said in a statement.
The union agreed to the request, saying it was hopeful the premier's move signals a new approach by the Liberal government.
"We are looking forward to getting back to the table in an effort to resolve the current situation and bring positive change to our education system," said union president Liette Doucet.
Contract negotiations between the province and the union fell apart Nov. 25 after the sides agreed to meet with a conciliator.
The union's members have twice rejected a contract offer that the union executive recommended, and voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike. The teachers are in the second week of a work-to-rule campaign, which has included the cancellation of all extracurricular activities, field trips, concerts and sports.
News that the two sides were resuming talks came hours after members of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union voted by a margin of 94 per cent to reject a tentative agreement.
"We're not looking for anything that's outrageous," said union president Jason MacLean, adding that more than 60 per cent of the membership voted. "What we're looking to do right now is maintain what we have in our collective agreement."
The union, which represents about 7,300 civil servants, had initially recommended the union membership should ratify a tentative agreement reached more than a year ago, but it later changed its position, telling the membership to reject the deal.
MacLean said that agreement was reached "under duress" at a time when the government was threatening to introduce a bill that would put job security at risk. But when Bill 148 was introduced, the union learned it would not affect job protection. The bill has been introduced, but it has to be made law.
MacLean said the union wants to get back to the bargaining table.
"Stephen McNeil can't get a deal," MacLean said, referring to negotiations between the province and its public sector unions. "He did that by putting different pieces of legislation out there. If he wants a deal, here we are ... but leave the collective agreement intact and let's talk real bargaining."
Finance Minister Randy Delorey said the NSGEU deal was fair and affordable. The province had offered a four-year contract that starts with a two-year wage freeze followed by a three per cent increase in the final two years.
"Our fiscal position as been very clear, and that means that any plan that comes forward that gets negotiated has to respect our ability pay and not put at risk our fiscal plan," said Delorey.
Delorey said his government would reach out to the union. He said the province would proclaim Bill 148 "if we believe the fiscal position is put in jeopardy."
The minister is expected to provide an update on the province's finances Thursday.
MacLean said the union does not want arbitration, mediation or conciliation. He said members want to return to the bargaining table, and they're not concerned with Bill 148.
"If they want to proclaim it, have at 'er. We don't think it's worth the paper it's written on," said MacLean. "If they proclaim Bill 148, we'll be going to the courts with it because we think it's unconstitutional."
The union has proposed a three-year agreement with wage increases that would be tied to the province's economic growth and the consumer price index.