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Unions representing employees in Nova Scotia’s education system are worried about having to negotiate with the provincial government as opposed to school boards.

Besides teachers, the education system employs hundreds of workers who are under different unions and different contracts, most of which have been expired for several years.

Tuesday, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) posted a statement to its website reassuring members that they can continue to bargain with their respective school boards.

However, the statement also called out the province for not consulting with unions beforehand and warns members to not put too much stock into assurances by the government.

“We do want to remind you that, with the speed in which Government is moving on this file, nothing we have been told is written in stone and is subject to change,” the statement read.

“The NSGEU was not consulted in this plan and we remain committed to holding this Government accountable for their actions and get answers our members deserve.”

Jason MacLean, president of the NSGEU, says negotiations are already starting to break down with some boards and he is worried about the future of the bargaining process itself.

“Before, there was a direct connection to every community, so you had school boards who were actually responsible to the community, now you’re going to have people who are just appointed by the government, who are they going to be responsible to?” says MacLean. “I believe, they’re going to be responsible to government.”

On January 24 the Nova Scotia government announced it would eliminate all English speaking school boards in the province.

The move stems from a recommendation from the Raise the Bar report by education expert Dr. Avis Glaze.

The unions that cover education employees, outside of teachers, include NSGEU but also the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

These unions represent staff like bus drivers, IT staff, teachers assistants, accounts and more.

In some areas, multiple unions have contracts with school boards, each representing a different set of employees.

The South Shore Regional School Board’s teachers assistants, for example, are under SEIU, while transportation staff and various administrators are under NSGEU.

However, most of these employees have been working under expired contracts for several years. Some SEIU employees in SSRSB have been working under an expired contract since 2015.

This week, Education Minister Zach Churchill announced school boards will no longer have the power to enter into major agreements without permission of the province.

But MacLean says government has assured him his members can continue to bargain with the individual school boards as they continue to be the “employer” of these various union members.

“Right now (the province) is saying it’s a change in governance and not the employers, so when it comes to us bargaining, we’re just going to continue bargaining with the employers that are already there which are essentially our school boards,” says MacLean.

School board staff are the ones the unions bargain with, however elected school boards usually vote on contracts, something MacLean says boards can’t do now.

“Apparently that’s a power that’s been taken from the boards,” says Maclean. “This is a frustrating situation for everybody involved, how it used to be isn’t the way it is anymore.”

The unions representing education employees, including NSTU are set to meet with the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour (NSFL) later this month.

Danny Cavanagh, president of the NSFL, says he would have liked to see more consultations with stakeholders, including members across the various unions.

“At this point, because they don’t want to work with stakeholders we have to work with what gets thrown at us, but we need to work with factual information which is why we need to do an analysis.”
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