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Emily Turner’s daughter, Lyla, hasn’t attended school for two weeks.

The Halifax Regional Centre for Education told her mother not to send her daughter to school for her safety while education program assistants and other support staff throughout the city are on strike.

Around 1,800 EAs and support workers in Halifax schools walked off the job on May 10 after rejecting the offer by the provincial government to increase wages by 6.5 per cent over three years. While workers in other parts of the province settled, those in Halifax, who make up nearly half of the total number in Nova Scotia, say the government’s offer doesn’t even meet the living wage in the city.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported in September that the living wage in Halifax is $23.50 an hour. And while the average median wage for education assistants in Canada is $23 an hour, the Nova Scotia government is offering its lowest-paid EAs just $16 an hour.

Lyla was born with a rare cognitive and physical condition, and is non-verbal, relies on mobility aids, and is tube fed. As a result, Lyla depends on her EA to get her through her day. She supports not just her education but also helps her with physical therapy.

“They do her feeds, they watch her if she has a seizure, and she needs anything. It’s one massive undertaking they take on with a medically complex child like mine,” Ms. Turner said.

She said the strike has been hard on her daughter. She misses the socialization and therapy she would get at school.

“The amount of children that don’t have support right now is staggering. This has to be resolved sooner than later,” she added.

Marlene Ferguson, one of the EAs picketing outside Halifax schools, has been an EA for 18 years and some of her students have autism, ADHD and PTSD.

She doesn’t feel fairly compensated for her work, making between $700 and $800 every two weeks, especially since she finds children require so much more support than they did five or 10 years ago.

“The message seems to be that we’re not valued.”

Chris Melanson, the president of CUPE 5047, the union representing support workers and EAs in Nova Scotia, says their wages are insulting. He has worked as an EA for 28 years and only makes $38,000 annually.

“I do not know any other industry, company, organization that would allow somebody that they call integral to barely make a living wage,” he said.

He added that many EAs and support staff work two or three jobs to make ends meet. Some have even left the field for fast-food or retail because of the low wages and the tough nature of the work.

The situation isn’t unique to Nova Scotia. EAs in Ontario are also suffering, said Colleen Dietrich Sisson, the president of the Education Assistants Association in Ontario.

Between low wages, irregular hours, and insufficient staff, she said that EAs are burning out and struggling to maintain their physical and mental health.

“We’re not being treated the same as teachers and other staff,” said Ms. Dietrich Sisson.

Last November, 55,000 Ontario support workers avoided a strike after getting a last-minute deal with the government.

Ms. Dietrich Sisson said she would love to see EAs get the hours and pay they deserve; she suggested somewhere between $50,000 and $60,000 a year. EAs in Ontario usually only make around $39,000 a year, she added.

Allan MacMaster, the Nova Scotia Minister of Labour Relations, said in an e-mailed statement that the province is disappointed that the Halifax support workers rejected the offer after the rest of the province accepted it.

“We believe the wage package offered is fair – and so did the majority of CUPE-represented members across the province,” the statement read, adding that the province and board are working to minimize the impact on students. As of May 13, the Halifax Regional Education Centre has been looking to hire temporary replacement staff to get students back in the classroom.

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