Arbitration board gives Halifax police new contract

Halifax Regional Police have a new, five-year collective agreement with pay increases of 2.75 per cent each year, thanks to the decision of an arbitration board on Friday.

Collective agreement includes wage increases of 2.75 per cent each year for 5 years

Halifax Regional Police employees have a new contract after their last contract expired on March 31, 2015. (Robert Short/CBC)

Halifax Regional Police have a new, five-year collective agreement with pay increases of 2.75 per cent each year, thanks to the decision of an arbitration board on Friday.

The police union, called the Halifax Regional Police Association, and the Halifax Regional Municipality had experienced an "almost total failure of bargaining," the decision states, and after a failed attempt at conciliation, the two sides turned to arbitration.

The municipality submitted 13 issues to arbitration and the union submitted four. The arbitration panel sided with the union on most points.

The president of the union, Staff Sgt. Mark Hartlen, said he was pleased with the board's decision.

"We think that the arbitration award does reflect some of the points and positions that we tried to advance. We're definitely not disappointed," he said.

Wage increase

On the issue of wages, the municipality asked for a four-year contract with a one per cent lump sum payment in each of the first two years and a one per cent salary increase in the last two. That wage request was contingent upon also being granted requested changes to the medical and dental plans.

The union asked for a 10-year agreement with an increase of 2.2 per cent in the first year, 2.98 per cent in the second, and after that, to have salaries pegged to the average rate of pay within the highest-paying 35 police forces in Canada. The union asked for a minimum increase of one per cent each year.

The new contract includes wage increases each year for five years. (Robert Short/CBC)

The arbitration board's decision says the new pay scale reflects "the fact that the HRP is the largest municipal police force in Atlantic Canada and its members have historically been the highest paid both in Nova Scotia and within the Atlantic region."

Hartlen said while he recognizes that the wage increases are higher than what has been proposed or approved in other public sectors, "the general rule of thumb is that police compare with police."

"I don't think it's an exaggerated position or wage increase," Hartlen said. "I think it really reflects what's going on in policing across the country and I also think it's really some recognition for the work being done and some of the demands that are being placed on police."

Service awards

The municipality also asked the arbitrators to eliminate the members' long-service awards, arguing the awards are "an anachronism which provides no value to taxpayers."

Under the old contract, which expired March 31, 2015, employees with 20 years under their belts received an annual lump-sum payment of $1,500 and those with 25 years got $2,000.

The municipality proposed the elimination of the long-service award, but the arbitration board chose to maintain the current awards. (Robert Short/CBC)

The union requested increases to the payments, asking for 20-year employees to get $2,000, 25-year employees to get $2,500 and 30-year employees to get $3,500.

The arbitration board said neither side demonstrated sufficient reason for an increase or decrease, and decided to maintain the status quo.

Other issues

The board also ruled against the municipality's requests to make changes to the medical, dental and pension plans, injury leave, hours of work and other clauses in the former contract.

Of the issues that the association submitted to arbitration, the board rejected two, including the union's request to have benefits extended to part-time employees.

Two of its other requests were granted in part, including a wage differential increase for crime analysts and intercept monitors and an increase in the employment insurance top-up for expectant mothers from 75 per cent of regular pay to 93 per cent during the two-week EI waiting period.

A the time of the arbitration hearing in 2016, there were 517 sworn police officers and 125 civilian employees. Hartlen said those numbers remain about the same now.

No one from the municipality was available for comment on the weekend.