Work-To-Rule Doesn’t Work For Anyone

Both teachers and parents have reason to be confused by the “rules” that govern work-to-rule.

On December 5th, the NSTU issued a directive to teachers listing 25 activities they were to cease performing. Since then, they have had a number of incidents that did not reflect well on them.

The prohibition on guest speakers meant that Santa was shown the door when he showed up at Christmas time.

Teachers were not allowed to participate in department-related development programs, but a handful viewed it as acceptable to attend training conferences in Hawaii.

School-based sports teams have been cancelled, and the Nova School Schools Athletic Federation made it difficult for teams to form outside the school system. Athletic and cultural outings have been cancelled. Rinks, gyms, ski hills, and cultural organizations have suffered.

Promising students seeking scholarships are unable to get letters of recommendation from their teachers.

Six hundred student teachers have been unable to get placement for their internships, putting their entire academic year at risk. The five affected universities are suing the NSTU.

The union says it is reviewing its directives. It has partly relented on class trips, saying that those “that have signed contracts involving money” can go ahead.

So, what happens when the NSTU mandated work-to-rule ends? A number of teachers have been quoted as saying that they liked being less busy. Some of them may make their work-to-rule plan permanent.

For some activities such as coaching teams and clubs, chaperoning school trips and parties, or supervising lunch, that is their choice to make.

In fact, school boards and parents would be wise to step up parental participation to make some of those programs less vulnerable to teacher strike action. It is acceptable for teachers to withdraw from participating, but not for them to demand that the activities not take place without them.

For many other activities the government should, by legislation, stipulate that teachers who are on the job and still receiving full salary cannot be instructed by the union to: decline to participate in meetings and development programs, decline to accept student teacher interns, cease providing students with extra help or scholarship recommendations, decline to participate in outings during regular school hours, or not complete department-mandated administrative activities.

Principals and other school-based administrative staff received their own 22 point directive of things they were not to do, including: planning, organizing, or approving school events, supervising or observing teacher evaluation, attending department or board meetings, filling out forms except for those related to safety issues, and many more.

In other words, all management personnel at a school are expected to take direction from the NSTU, but not from school boards. This is ridiculous. Principals are part of management. They should not be in a union at all. If they are to remain, legislation should make them entirely exempt from NSTU directives.

The union has its own issues. It has demonstrated three times that it is unwilling or unable to lead membership in supporting a collective agreement that it has negotiated.

The financial package is what the government needs across the financial sector if it is to put the province on a sound financial footing. The province reiterated its commitment last week by deciding that judges must take its formula rather than the 9.5% over three years that was recommended by an independent tribunal.

That is admirably consistent, but does not make the modest raises it is offering any more attractive to unionized public sector workers. The union’s job has been made more difficult by media eavesdropping on the town hall discussion by teachers and amplifying the voices of dissent.

The government was far too hasty in proposing back-to-work legislation in December. But the teachers appear unwilling to support any contract that includes the government’s financial terms. Working conditions were never the primary issue.

After a period of reflection, the government should implement the legislation necessary to put an end to the “work-to-rule” strike action. Students and parents have suffered long enough, and most teachers find it uncomfortable being told that they should be intentionally unhelpful.

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