Job action possible as early as Thursday over N.S. reforms, teachers' union says

Job action possible as early as Thursday over N.S. reforms, teachers' union says

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's 9,300 public school teachers could launch job action as early as Thursday if they endorse an illegal strike in an attempt to derail the province's sweeping education reforms.

Liette Doucet, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, said the executive will meet Wednesday to review a strike vote held Tuesday.

Job action including work-to-rule activities, a rotating strike or a walkout are all options that would be on the table if teachers vote in favour of a strike, she said.

"Nova Scotia schools are already in crisis. There is not enough support for students, teachers are not given enough time to teach and the reforms will turn a crisis into a catastrophe," she said Tuesday. "If we do take job action, it will be because we want to stop this legislation."

Education Minister Zach Churchill questioned the union's decision to seek an illegal strike mandate.

"I don't want to hypothesize on what the outcome of that vote will be. But I can say that I don't believe that an illegal strike or disruption to the class is in the best interest or our students," he said.

The union called the unexpected strike vote last week to protest the province's decision to largely endorse a consultant's report recommending education reforms, including the removal of 1,000 principals, vice-principals and supervisors from the union.

The report by consultant Avis Glaze makes 22 recommendations, including eliminating the province's seven English-language school boards and creating a provincial college of educators to license and regulate the profession.

The extensive reforms come a year after Nova Scotia's public school teachers walked off the job for a day and staged a protest outside the provincial legislature. The Liberal government eventually passed legislation ending a 16-month contract dispute with teachers, which also ended a work-to-rule job action.

"Teachers went out in protest last year telling us this system was broken and that they need a better system of education to support them," Churchill said. "Change is difficult, it creates uncertainty. But we've heard from everybody — parents, kids, teachers and administrators in the system — that what we're doing isn't working and we have to do better."

He added that the proposed charges have garnered a lot of support from parents and members of the public eager for change.

Yet Doucet said she believed most parents are supportive of teachers and understand the union's actions are in students' best interest and the future of education.  

She appeared confident the union will receive a strike mandate, saying the teachers "are willing to stand up for what's right" and "fight for public education."

Both the union and teachers would face stiff financial penalties if they go on strike while a collective agreement is in place.

Sarah Gillis, a spokeswoman for the Labour and Advanced Education Department, said there are labour board processes in place to deal with such job action.

She said illegal strike activities could lead to specific fines of up to $300 per day for the union and up to $200 per day for a union officer or representative. 

However, if an illegal strike activity continues despite a labour board decision ordering employees to return to work, the penalty is up to $10,000 a day for the union and up to $1,000 a day for each teacher or individual, Gillis said.

Several of the province's unions have expressed support for teachers and concern with the lack of consideration afforded to support workers in the education system.

"This government is taking a legislative hammer to implement the Glaze report without any discussion or consultation with any of the unions," said Danny Cavanagh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour. "Our message to the government is bring us to the table and let us be part of this decision-making process."

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press