Nova Scotia teachers vote in favour of strike mandate as conciliation talks near

By Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

HALIFAX — Unionized public school teachers in Nova Scotia have voted in favour of a strike mandate.

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union said 98 per cent of its more than 10,000 members voted in support Thursday.

The vote came ahead of conciliation talks next week aimed at assisting lagging contract negotiations with the province.

Teachers union president Ryan Lutes said the vote sends a clear message.

“What teachers are saying with this vote is that the status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable, and they aren’t prepared to sit idly by while the situation grows worse,” he said in a news release Thursday night. “It’s time to fix our schools.” 

Education Minister Becky Druhan said she was disappointed at the vote results but not surprised.

“I want to reassure parents that the outcome of this vote has no impact on school operations and does not trigger a strike,” Druhan said in a statement. “This vote is only a distraction that has caused confusion and anxiety for students and their families.”

The sides have been in negotiations since last June, but Lutes has said there has been no progress on the union’s main issues, which include school violence, teacher retention and a lack of substitute teachers.

A lack of action on school violence is a particular sticking point, Lutes said, adding that over 50 per cent of union members have reported being victimized by violence or the threat of violence at school. “That’s an unacceptable number,” he said.

In a union survey completed by 2,534 members last year, 55 per cent said they had been the victim of a violent act or threat at work, while 92 per cent said that they’d witnessed violence “first-hand at school.” The issue of school violence is currently being examined by Nova Scotia’s auditor general.

Lutes said teacher pay is also a priority, although he wouldn’t be specific about what the union is asking for ahead of conciliation.

“I think those specific conversations are best left to the bargaining table, but I think in general teachers want a competitive salary,” he said, adding that his membership also needs to keep up with inflation. “I think it’s reasonable, especially in a teacher shortage where we need to attract people to the profession.”

According to the federal government’s most recent labour market survey, the median hourly wage for a Canadian secondary school teacher is $45.30, while the corresponding hourly wage in Nova Scotia is $41.76.

Druhan said earlier that the government and the union are in agreement when it comes to tackling complex issues such as violence in schools, but she said the solutions will be found through ongoing broader discussions that include teacher and education assistants as well as other professionals across the education system.

“Those complex issues are best served by that collaborative work,” said Druhan.

The minister also wouldn’t tip the government’s hand in the conciliation talks, but she said it has been committed to bargaining “fair wages” for all public sector employees.

“I’m optimistic that we can get a negotiated agreement that does reflect our commitment,” she said.

The union went on strike for the first time in its history in February 2017 when it held a one-day walkout in the midst of a contract dispute with the former Liberal government.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2024.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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