Hundreds of school workers in Nova Scotia set to strike over wages
By Brett Bundale
Hundreds of school staff in Nova Scotia plan to go on strike this week after rejecting a new contract offer over wages.
More than 600 workers at the Annapolis Valley Regional Centre for Education plan to go on strike Monday, while about 160 workers at the South Shore Regional Centre for Education will begin a strike Tuesday, according to the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union.
The strike comes after more than a year of bargaining between locals and the regional education centres, with wages emerging as the key sticking point, NSGEU president Sandra Mullen said.
The main issue is that staff in the Annapolis Valley and on the South Shore earn less than staff in Halifax doing the same job, with starting pay for some positions as low as minimum wage, she said.
“School staff deserve to be paid the same from one end of the province to the other,” Mullen said. “They should be paid the same for doing the same work — that is the bottom line.”
Cost of living increasing
The cost of living in the province’s more rural areas has risen in recent years, with housing and transportation costs comparable to areas of Halifax, she said.
“We don’t have public transit and the cost of rent and housing is just skyrocketing across the province — not just in the urban centers,” Mullen said. “These folks deserve the same wages as workers in Halifax.”
The workers poised to strike include educational assistants, student support workers, library support workers, administrative assistants and early childhood educators who run pre-primary programs.
“We will not be able to offer the pre-primary program,” Paul Ash, regional executive director of education for the South Shore area, said in a letter to the school community.
“Children in the pre-primary program will not attend school,” he said. “We are currently working on plans to provide at-home learning materials to all pre-primary students.”
Dave Jones, regional executive director of education in the Annapolis Valley, sent a similar notice to the school community.
In addition to cancelling school for pre-primary students, he said students who receive supports and services from the striking staff will experience disruptions.
“We will continue to keep you informed as this process unfolds,” Jones said. “We understand a strike represents a great impact on students, families, and staff. We appreciate your patience.”
Difficult for families
Mullen said the workers set to strike in the coming days also appreciate that the strike will be difficult for families.
“Members are not taking this lightly,” she said. “They are very upset with the fact that they are at this point. There’s no question. This is not a decision any of us make easily.”
A spokesperson with the provincial Education Department said both sides have worked hard and it is disappointing they have yet to reach an agreement.
“The province respects and is committed to the collective bargaining process,” Barbara MacLean said in an emailed statement. “But we know how frustrating a situation like this is for staff, students and families.”
She said the regional education centres have been communicating with families about the impacts and are committed to keeping everyone informed.
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