HALIFAX — The premier of Nova Scotia said the province is exploring child care options as the possibility of a strike by teachers looms.
Stephen McNeil told reporters Saturday that he is eager to resume negotiations with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, but is looking into "opportunities for parents" in the event classrooms shut down.
McNeil said NSTU representatives walked away from the bargaining table Friday after rejecting the province's offer totalling $41 million, including $21 million in wages and $10 million in each of the last two years of the four-year proposal.
McNeil said what the teachers union is asking for is "not sustainable" given the state of the provincial economy. The provincial government has pegged the price tag of the teachers' proposal at $508 million — including $140 million in wages and $340 million for working conditions and $28 million towards the long service award, a one-time payout teachers receive upon retirement based on salary and the number of years worked.
"We can't spend money that we don't have hoping that the economy is going to grow," Mcneil said. "What we're asking for is to allow all of us to share in this pain as part of building ... economic growth that will give us the revenue to be able to offer a different compensation package in the future."
McNeil said teachers have generous pension plans, health benefits and accumulate 195 sick days over their career and that the educators' demands are not in line with the rest of the public sector.
The provincial government has estimated that if the teachers' demands were applied to Nova Scotian public servants across the board, it would cost taxpayers around $1.5 billion.
"What we have provided is fair. It reflects Nova Scotians' ability to pay," said McNeil.
NSTU president Liette Doucet said in an interview Saturday that she "has no way of verifying" the figures the government has put forward. She said she was "surprised" the premier said he wanted to negotiate, because in her assessment, this week's talks didn't involve a lot of "negotiation."
"We gave the starting point. They didn't come back with anything," Doucet said. "There was no negotiation to try to come up with somewhere in the middle."
The government's $10 million-a-year offer would be controlled a committee composed of both union and government officials, Doucet said, which could lead to further clashes over where the money should be spent.
Contract negotiations between the province and the NSTU, which represents 9,000 public school teachers, fell apart Friday after the two sides agreed to meet with a conciliator following failed attempts in recent weeks to convene a conciliation board and to take the dispute to mediation.
Doucet said the union has planned to launch a job action on Dec. 5 but didn't specify whether the strike would take the form of a complete walkout or a work-to-rule campaign. She said more details would be released in the coming week.
The teachers are in a legal strike position as of Dec. 3, making Dec. 5 the first day of school that could be impacted by job action.
The province warned parents earlier this week they should start making plans in case their children aren't in class after Dec. 5.
The government has said the Nova Scotia Teachers Union must give 48 hours notice of job action.
The union membership has twice rejected a contract offer that the union executive recommended, and voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike.