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Teachers’ working conditions

Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union’s Strike Vote Pushes Government to Agreement

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Last week, the Nova Scotia government and the union representing the province's 10,000 teachers reached an agreement on a new collective agreement. A near-unanimous strike vote had been weighing on the government since April 11 and quickly broke the deadlock in negotiations, which had been dragging on for over 10 months.

"Is it, in an instant, going to fix every issue in schools? Absolutely not. But we think that there's significant gains," said Ryan Lutes, president of the teachers' union, about the agreement. The content will not be shared with the public before being presented to teachers, and the date of the vote has not yet been revealed.

This was the first contract negotiation between the Union and the province since a June 2022 Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruling stated that teachers were justified in calling a province wide strike in response to the former McNeil government legislating teachers back-to-work in 2017 with the introduction of Bill 75.

A few days before the agreement was reached, on April 15, hundreds of teachers from the Nova Scotia Teachers' Union local in Halifax County had gathered at the Armdale Rotary in Halifax's west end. This was the second in a series of demonstrations planned across the province, to increase pressure on the government.

Liette Doucet, Halifax County local President, told North Star at the rally that "the main issues that teachers are facing right now are that the government is not listening to teachers. We've been talking about them for years and years and years, and we're still at this point. The government isn't willing to give us what we need in order to educate our students."

Liette Doucet, Halifax County local president, during an interview with North Star

"Students aren't getting what they need," she added. "There aren't enough supports for students right now. Violence is increasing in schools. Teachers are swamped with work, their workload is tremendous. They're burning out. We have many teachers leaving and we have a shortage of teachers right now."

Full time teachers, faced with a surge in classroom sizes and workload, are finding it nearly impossible to keep up. Formerly, teachers worked a '6 of 8', where 6 of the 8 working hours were spent teaching and the other two could be spent doing other vital tasks needed to maintain functioning of the school system such as marking and grading, or in some cases, organizing and filling out the necessary paperwork for a club or sports team.

However, teachers now work '7 out of 8', which means that many necessary tasks that used to be carried out during working hours are now done at home, without pay. The end result is increased pressure on already overworked teachers to maintain vital extracurricular activities.

"We want to work to keep teachers here," said Doucet. "That's a big problem right now. We don't have substitutes to cover for teachers. Specialists are covering and students are losing resources because their teachers that should be supporting them are filling in somebody else's classroom."

"Those are some of the bigger issues that we're facing right now... it's getting worse and worse everyday and teachers really can't manage right now."

Doucet also told North Star that teacher morale was quite low. "Having rallies like this is helping a little, because they see that there are people who are supporting teachers. We get lots of public support when we have rallies. So today was a big boost. But overall, teachers really need help. They are overworked, they are wondering when the government is going to realize that they need help."

But to her, that low morale is a reason to keep fighting. And the agreement reached a few days after the rally seems to prove her right. "Unions are here to support each other. It doesn't matter what union you are in, you have to be out there, be putting the information out, be supporting each other. Come out to each others rallies, just to help with the morale and help to get the message out."

"So I would say to other workers, if you're in a situation like we're in, and I know many are, keep fighting."

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