Working to rule
Teachers ready to take action

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jan 07/00) - Teachers around the Northwest Territories, outside of Yellowknife, are ready to begin pressuring the government in a contract negotiations showdown.

  Teachers escalate job action

The NWT Teachers' Association (NWTTA) will begin rotating strikes Monday as they increase pressure for a new collective agreement. Full withdrawal of services will occur at different schools throughout the territory, excluding Yellowknife.

Teachers in the Sahtu School Division -- Colville Lake, Deline, Fort Good Hope, Norman Wells and Tulita -- will not report to work on Monday. They will return to work the next day, at which time another district may go on strike.

Job action began Dec. 30 when teachers outside Yk began refusing to do any extra-curricular work. Talks to reach a new contract have broken down.

On Tuesday, the NWT Teachers' Association (NWTTA) announced that by 12:01 p.m. Thursday, teachers will partially withdraw some services by working to rule.

They will continue to conduct classes, but will report to work only 15 minutes before the morning bell and will leave 15 minutes after the dismissal bell rings, according to an NWTTA press release. No extra-curricular activities will take place before or after school, the release states.

Pat Thomas, president of the NWTTA, said the teachers are not asking for a lot of extra money -- essentially a total of $1.5 million in wage increases over two years. The GNWT's tight budget "is not my problem," she added.

"I don't think (the GNWT) should solve or reduce the deficit on our backs. We did that in '96. We bought their line ... things were supposed to improve after that," she argued. "I'm not the one mismanaging the money."

A press release on behalf of Charles Dent, minister responsible for public service, states that the GNWT's last offer to the NWTTA would have made NWT teachers among the highest paid in the country. Dent said he's disappointed by the NWTTA's decision to work to rule, but noted that Divisional Education Councils and Divisional Education Authorities have contingency plans should job action escalate.

As of Tuesday, there were no further negotiations scheduled between the two sides, but Thomas said the NWTTA is willing to return to the table when the territorial government indicates it's willing to build on the last offer.

NWTTA members turned down an offer of a three per cent wage increase the first year and a two per cent increase the second year. They were also offered $500 for professional allowance. Thomas said their counter-offer was four per cent the initial year and three per cent the second year, with $2,700 allotted for professional allowance. She added that class sizes and special needs are other issues that teachers are demanding be addressed.

Should a full-fledged strike come to pass, the NWTTA has a strike fund in place, Thomas acknowledged.

"And we will get support from teachers across Canada," she added.

On Monday, arbitrator Tom Joliffe had ruled that principals perform an essential service and therefore must report to school for two hours on the first morning of every strike action. They would be responsible to oversee the safety of children who mistakenly show up at school.

The teachers' previous contract expired as of Aug. 31, 1999.