If you are a parent, chances are your children have received, or soon will receive, an extra day off school. That day off is not because of a blizzard or ice rain. It will be due to labour disruption.
As has been frequently reported in the pages of The Leader and other media since last summer, all publicly-funded teachers’ unions have been without a contract for six months.
Throughout last fall and into the Christmas season, union after union voted in overwhelming favour of strike action: work-to-rule actions began in November. These work-to-rule actions have now escalated into a series of rotating one-day strikes, just enough disruption to make a point, without severely inconveniencing anyone who votes or pays taxes.
For its part, the province and its appointed education minister Stephen Leece, have attempted to spread the blame as per the PC handbook: It’s the previous government’s fault; the province is broke; there is no money unless the government raises taxes; the unions’ wage demands are unreasonable.
Both sides have taken their appointed battle positions, both have polled the population to see who has what support: both issue missives at every opportunity. Each sends out carefully choreographed press releases to stress their respective talking points. While this drama unfolds at the speed of molasses, students sit in class with fewer activities and events wondering whether they will have a snow day, or a strike day.
The province and the unions both have some merit to their respective stands. That is part of the problem. Schools do need more supports, but this means more financial input by the government. This province is still in a deficit situation with one of the largest sub-sovereign debt-per-capita ratings in the world.
The unions claim they are, and continue to be, ready to negotiate face to face, yet no sit down talks have occurred since Christmas. Still the government proclaims that it wants to talk, but chooses to do so only through press releases to the media.
It is time for the province and the unions to sit down at a table and actually work out their differences. If both parties maintain that they have only the best interests of students at heart, then their actions should reflect this. At present they do not.
This labour dispute has become a game of political chicken: the unions and the province aren’t even driving on the same road.