October 18, 2016 - 1:58 PM
HALIFAX - The countdown to a potential strike by Nova Scotia's 9,000 unionized teachers has begun now that a conciliator's report has been filed on their contract dispute with the provincial government.
Education Minister Karen Casey confirmed Tuesday that the report had been filed with the Labour Department, meaning that beginning Wednesday the union will have to wait 44 days before it can give a 48-hour strike notice.
The Nova Scotia Teachers Union has scheduled a strike vote for Oct. 25.
Casey also said she wrote to union president Liette Doucet on Monday asking for further discussions on classroom working conditions, which teachers say is the main reason they rejected a tentative deal earlier this month. Casey said the intent is to get a formalized partnership in place to address those concerns.
"I feel strongly that we should continue the good work on this initiative that began at the bargaining table," Casey said in the letter which was tabled in the legislature.
"Given our mutual interests in this initiative, I suggest we take steps such that the first meeting of the Partnership take place prior to the end of this month."
Casey said while it wouldn't mean a return to the negotiating table, it would be an attempt by the government to address teachers' concerns, although she wouldn't say whether it would ultimately mean an additional financial commitment from the government to provide further classroom support.
"The partnership that was identified by both negotiating teams as important, as a priority was put into the tentative deal," she said. "The fact that the teachers rejected that deal doesn't mean that it wasn't the right thing to do."
Casey said she was still waiting to hear back from Doucet and that the side offer had "absolutely nothing" to do with the impending strike vote.
Doucet said she was in the process of formulating the union's response which would likely be sent to Casey on Wednesday. She wouldn't say what was in the reply, but characterized the government's willingness to discuss workload issues as "positive."
Doucet said she had no idea if the offer of more talks was the government's way of trying to influence the strike vote.
"If the thought is that we would cancel the vote that is not going to happen, so it will not have any effect on that," she said.
Opposition Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie dismissed the minister's letter as simply politics.
"They (government) have mismanaged this to the point where we may face a strike and now they are scrambling," said Baillie.
The union rejected the government's most recent contract offer with about 70 per cent of the membership who voted saying no. Teachers also rejected an earlier tentative settlement in a vote last November by a 61 per cent margin.
The union's executive had recommended its members accept each of the tentative deals.
Last week, Premier Stephen McNeil said the government would continue to talk about non-contract issues but would not be offering teachers more money.
If the teachers strike, they will become the first public sector union to resist the government's yet-to-be-proclaimed public sector salary bill, which would impose a wage freeze for two years, followed by a three per cent raise over the next two years.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016