The New Brunswick Teacher’s Association says it has applied for mediation in its ongoing negotiations with the provincial government for a collective agreement that expires in 2021.
It launched a campaign on social media using a lemon.
“The lemon is a symbol that we arrived at and I think it signifies very well that … the government really needs to stop the squeeze on public education in this province,” said NBTA president Connie Keating.
Keating said talks were originally delayed by the pandemic, but described the situation as “loosely” being at the table.
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“We are at a point where both sides have reached a point where we need some assistance in getting to a collective agreement,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
The NBTA is seeking more competitive wages, recognition of the teacher shortage crisis in the province, and a plan for recruitment and retention.
“Currently, the government is expecting teachers and school administrators to accept a compensation package that is below the national average of what our other colleagues across the country are receiving, in particular, our Atlantic counterparts,” Keating said.
She said teachers are feeling disrespected by the government.
“Certainly, knowing that a (budget) surplus exists, not acknowledging that as a way to address many of the needs within our New Brunswick education system, is very disheartening,” Keating explained, adding there was time to allocate the money and make a deal before the next fiscal year.
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She said teachers and administrators are continually being asked to do more with less. Many have to work extensive overtime. There are long-term absences that have not been filled.
Keating explained teachers are also trying to help students with mental health issues, and all those issues have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Finance Minister Ernie Steeves said as far as the surplus goes, that isn’t recurring money, but declined to comment on the negotiations.
“But as to the negotiations, I can’t speak to those because they are just that, they’re closed-door negotiations, so I know that they are working hard,” he said. “The teachers are working hard and so is the government.”
Education Minister Bill Hogan said in an email that “as a former educator, I appreciate and support the work that teachers do each and every day to inspire our students to learn, thrive and succeed.”
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“As a government, we are open to discussing any issues with the NBTF and look forward to returning to the bargaining table, which is the only place we can reach an agreement. The next step is to proceed to a conciliation board hearing, and we are awaiting for a board to be appointed,” he said.
Neither the Department of Finance and Treasury Board nor the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development responded directly to the accusations made by the NBTA, or whether they were prepared for a strike.
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The Higgs government has undergone at least two rounds of collective bargaining with different public sector employees – one of them the Canadian Union of Public Employees in New Brunswick who walked the picket line for 16 days in November 2021.
Keating said, so far, they are awaiting the mediation process and haven’t initiated any talk of strike action.
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She said the priority must be retaining teachers looking to work in the province and has heard, anecdotally, students looking to work in the education field are looking outside the province.
“We need to keep students who are educated in this province,” she said. “We need to be keeping them here in New Brunswick.”
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