Other unions not rushing to seize civil servants' deal

Arbitration recently awarded the province's civil servants extra years and wage increases in their contract. The offer is there for others to take but so far no one is biting.

Arbitration panel added two years, each with two per cent wage increases

Other public sector workers in Nova Scotia have yet to ask for the additional contract years and wage increases granted civil servants last week. (Molly Segal/CBC)

The head of the province's largest public sector union said members aren't lining up to call for a similar contract awarded last week to Nova Scotia civil servants.

Last Thursday, an arbitration panel extended the contract for the province's civil service, represented by the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, by two years and granted a two per cent wage increase in each of those years.

But while a spokesperson for Premier Stephen McNeil said the terms from the arbitration panel are available to other unions that want them, NSGEU president Jason MacLean said he hasn't heard any calls for that from his other members, which include health-care workers.

Setting a floor

"What works for some groups doesn't work for all," he said in an interview.

MacLean said his big takeaway from last week's ruling, which followed McNeil's decision to proclaim legislation imposing financial terms on all public sector workers, was that "no table can be dictated to."

"That ruling [from the panel], as far as I'm concerned, is the floor," he said. "That's the expectation [in future bargaining]."

More than money in health care

In the case of health-care workers, MacLean said there are many non-monetary things still to be resolved in finalizing contracts — including essential service agreements — and a couple of extra years and moderate increases wouldn't be enough to get approval from members.

"That deal we wouldn't bring back to be ratified," he said.

"There's so much left in the collective agreement that the employer is trying to change.… They haven't even tabled the sick leave provisions that they want."

Unions sharing strategy ideas

Lana Payne, Atlantic regional director of Unifor, said bargaining strategy meetings with local leadership affected by Bill 148 happened prior to the arbitration panel's decision. She said all unions have been talking and sharing strategy ideas.

"The very fact that we spend so much time together courtesy of Premier McNeil as a result of acute-care health negotiations and the bargaining councils means the health care unions are constantly talking and sharing information now," she said via electronic message.

A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Teachers Union said whether or not to pursue the additional contract years and increases would be up to the union's provincial executive. The group hasn't met since the release of the arbitration panel's report and the executive's next meeting isn't scheduled until January.

$280.5M for all

MacLean said he was heartened by the response from McNeil and Labour Relations Minister Mark Furey following the release of last week's decision. Both politicians called it fair and affordable for the province.

McNeil had said numerous times he would not let an "unelected, unaccountable third party" determine what the province could afford to pay in terms of wage settlements.

A Finance Department spokesperson said if the benefits civil servants won last week were extended across the broader public sector it would cost $280.5 million once fully implemented.

About the Author

Michael Gorman

Reporter

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia who covers Province House, rural communities, and everything in between. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca