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Nova Scotia Teachers Union calls surprise strike vote over education reforms

Last Updated Feb 13, 2018 at 3:00 pm PDT

HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s teachers union has called an unexpected strike vote, setting up a showdown with the province’s Liberal government over education reforms.

Any strike would not be legal, the union admitted as it battles a revamp of its membership and other reforms.

“Our education system is once again under attack from the McNeil government,” union president Liette Doucet said in a statement Tuesday.

Doucet said the move follows information sessions around the province on a report by consultant Avis Glaze and what the government’s embrace of it means for students and the profession.

“It was clear NSTU members agree the situation is dire and that as teachers and administrators we need to stand up for public education. We need to be prepared to fight for what is right and just.”

She said as a result the union executive approved the strike vote for Feb. 20.

The report, released last month, makes 22 recommendations including the removal of principals and vice-principals from the union and the creation of a provincial college of educators to license, govern, discipline and regulate the teaching profession.

It also calls for the elimination of the province’s seven English-language school boards.

Doucet said the strike vote would give the union a mandate to implement a job action if the government is unprepared to back down on its reforms.

In an emailed response, the Education Department said the teachers contract agreement is in place until July 31, 2019.

“Any job action undertaken while this is in place would be illegal,” said department spokeswoman Heather Fairbairn. “We are disappointed that the union executive is taking this position and ask that it consider how such action would affect students and their families.”

Legislation is expected to enact many of the Glaze’s reform recommendations in a legislature session that begins Feb. 27.

The teachers union has already flatly rejected an $800,000 compensation offer from the government to make up union dues that would be lost over the first year following the removal of principals and vice-principals from the union.

Education Minister Zach Churchill said last week that the offer isn’t indefinite and that other areas of the education system require investment.

Churchill also said while there’s no firm number yet, about 1,000 principals, vice-principals, and school board management supervisors would be affected.

It is the latest chapter in the ongoing strife between the province and its teachers.

Last February the Liberals enacted legislation that imposed a contract on Nova Scotia’s 9,300 public school teachers. The government imposed a three per cent wage increase over four years and also froze a retirement bonus for teachers backdated to July 2015.

The legislated settlement came after the union rejected three tentative agreements.

Premier Stephen McNeil said the move was necessary in order to end a work-to-rule job action that began in early December 2016.