HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia teachers are withdrawing from extracurricular activities as of next Monday as they start work-to-rule, but have no immediate plans to walk off the job altogether.

The union said Monday that teachers will arrive 20 minutes before school and leave 20 minutes after, and not participate in concerts, clubs or any other extracurricular activities. Field trips will be cancelled.

The union is in a legal strike position any time after this coming Saturday in their contract dispute with the provincial government.

"The provincial executive ... made the decision to begin job action with work-to-rule instead of a full-out strike," Liette Doucet, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, said Monday. "We didn't want parents to be surprised. We knew that parents were stressed about a full walkout."

The union acknowledged it will be inconvenient to families, but said it was "a necessary first action" to improve education in Nova Scotia.

"We don't have an end date. We are going to proceed and look at what's happening .... We don't want this to continue forever," she said.

Doucet said the sides spent two days at the bargaining table last week without progress because the government offered no response to the union's offer. There is no current plan for further talks, she said.

Education Minister Karen Casey said Monday the government showed flexibility and had been willing to continue negotiations "as long as we needed to stay," and she was disappointed the union walked away.

"That was discouraging and disappointing," Casey said. "It bothers me ... we're disappointed that teachers have made that decision to walk away from the table."

Doucet said the union's decision to opt for work-to-rule wasn't a bid to avoid possible provincial back-to-work legislation.

"We have no way of knowing if the government will do that or not. I mean, the government still could do that. They could do that in any of our job actions, or any job action we decide to take."

The union said the job action will include classroom teachers, administrators, school psychologists, speech language pathologists, school board consultants and other public school members who work for school boards and the provincial Education Department.

"We wanted to send a strong clear message to government that there are many things that we're doing that aren't directly related to what we are teaching our students every day and ... it's taking away our ability to ensure our students are successful every day," said Doucet.

The two sides disagree about where working conditions should be addressed: The union wants them dealt with at contract talks, while the government is insisting they be discussed by a separate committee made up of representatives from the teachers' union, school boards and the Education Department.