Nova Scotia's teachers ratified a two year deal on Wednesday that was about as vanilla as they come. The main "victories" were:
- a 2.9% raise in each of the two years of the deal
- some nominal increases in a benefits package that was already one of the finest in the public sector in Nova Scotia for orthotics and treatment from chiropractors, naturopaths, homepaths, etc
- the addition of 12 weeks of adoption leave for teachers adopting school aged children (prior to this deal you only got adoption leave if the children you adopted were preschool age). This is a nice add, but not a major win by any stretch given the extremely low number of adoptions of this type in Nova Scotia.
- the addition of 12 weeks of topped up parental leave for a teacher who is the non-birth parent of a newborn whose spouse is not a teacher (which has the greatest implications for male teachers who represent the main source of incoome in a household whose non-teaching spouses/partners give birth)
Substitute teachers got nothing in the first year of the deal, but a $20 per day increase to the substitute flat rate to $160 per day, and a decrease in the time required to reach pay at salary scale from 31 consecutive teaching days in the same position to 21 consecutive days.
Some have opined that this represents a major victory, but they forget that less than two years ago Dennis Cochrane, the Deputy Minister of Education, made the rare admission to Nova Scotia's newspapers that substitute pay was laughable and definitely needed to be addressed if we hoped to keep motivated and capable substitutes working in our province.
The NSTU failed to include in our asking package our standing policy of three years to seek to have substitute pay tied to the bottom most rung of the salary scale to end, once and for all, the glaring gap between the gains won by "regular" teachers in negotiations and the far lesser gains won for substitutes.
Had we included this item in negotiations and won, substitute daily pay would have looked like this.
The new starting salary for a first year teacher in the new agreement is slightly more than $47,000 per year. The NSTU policy seeks to have substitutes paid the first year salary divided by either 261 days (the number of days in a school year, including weekends, holidays and professional days) or 195 days (the number of days teachers work during the school year).
At 1/195 of a first year salary, substitutes would have been paid $241 per day. At 1/261 of a first year salary, substitutes would have been paid $180 and change per day.
In New Brunswick, substitute teachers are not required to have teaching certificates, and thus, are not paid in a manner reflective of teaching certification.
In Nova Scotia, substitute teachers MUST hold a valid teaching certificate, which means that they are every bit as qualifed to teach as their full time counterparts. It also means that they have at LEAST 5 years of university education to finance, and their daily pay does not consider the huge debt loads many new graduates must incur to get teaching training in Nova Scotia, the most costly teacher training in all of Canada.
The failure of the NSTU to make tying substitute pay to the salary scale, as their policy states that the provincial economic welfare committee is to seek in negotiations, is unacceptable and weakkneed. It ensures NS substitutes maintain their position behind their counterparts across the country in terms of daily rate and time to salary scale, however improved that position may be.
The national average for time to pay at salary scale for substitute teachers is 12.5 days retroactive. NS substitutes now need 21 days consecutively without retroactive pay, despite the fact that many substitutes do the work of the regular teacher from day one. They have a legitimate case for suffrage on their hands, and one the NSTU, if it had a moral bone in its spine, would be shouting from the rooftops about.
This is a deal of teeny wins. We asked for little, and got little, and now we're acting like we won much.
This is the second contract in a row of standing still on every major issue facing teachers, particularly the issues facing early career teachers and substitutes which continue to go blatantly ignored by asking packages.
The base pay for teachers may have increased, which is good, but there's STILL no framework for long term substitute service to qualify teachers for full contract status and benefits in the manner that exists in the vast majority of comparable teaching jurisdictions across the country. If there's no way to get a term contract so that you gain a foothold in the system so you can be paid according to the new salary scale, of what real benefit is the new salary scale to the thousands of early career teachers that will never see a paycheck on salary with benefits and rehire priority?
The NSTU is ever more semblant of the NDP under Audrey McLaughlin and Alexa McDonough- the party shrank in influence and relevance on a national scale and in size in parliament under their watch, but it won more moral victories than it ever had before under their watch.
I hope Nova Scotia's teachers wake up and realize that our strategy in negotiations isn't working and make it clear in the next presidential election that change is needed. Someone needs to aim higher than where we were in 1993 when setting goals for negotiations. The rest of the country has moved far past those measures- it appears we're happy just to get back to the good old days.