About 460 medical residents in Nova Scotia are in for a big pay raise after winning an arbitration worth millions of dollars against the Capital District Health Authority.

The award document states that residents are working excessive hours that pose a risk to themselves and patients, with some surgical residents working as many as 27 hours straight.

Residents have won a nine per cent raise over three years.

Base pay has also been bumped up, and will range from $55,600 to $88,250 per year.

The settlement is expected to cost Capital Health $3 million next year alone.

Phil Davis, a medical resident, said residents have been waiting months for this arbitration.

"Overall we’re very happy with the award. We think it represents fair compensation for residents and the job that we do," said Davis. "Hopefully this helps with physician retention down the road."

The award affects 540 residents in the Maritimes with 460 of those working for Capital Health in Halifax, the employer in this dispute.

The three-member panel that decided on the award was chaired by Ontario law professor Thomas Kuttner.

The panel’s majority ruling dismissed Nova Scotia's public sector wage restraint policy, that would limit annual wage increases to one per cent.

The panel did so on the grounds that it would be unfair to a group whose excessive hours of work are a "scandal" that "demean" residents and "endanger not only their health and welfare, but that of the patients committed to their care," the award states. John Gillis, spokesperson for Capital Health, said, the public should not be alarmed.

"We want to assure the public that we think they should have every confidence that they're getting quality and safe care," he said.

Residents also downplayed the risk posed by those long hours.

"Every resident is supervised so that overall patient health is not at jeopardy," said Davis.

One panel member criticized award

Capital Health said it is participating in initiatives to lessen the workload for residents. In the meantime it's considering an appeal to the panel’s award.

Of the three-member panel, there was one harshly dissenting opinion in the case.

Management appointee Harold Dunstan, one of the three members of the panel, said the ruling is unfair and issued a letter of dissent. Dunstan said hours of work were not an issue.

"The parties confirmed that hours of work, while perhaps an ongoing issue between the parties to the arbitration, Dalhousie University and other Canadian organizations, was not an issue before this board," he said.

"But the chair [Kuttner] has seized on this issue as the cause celebre for justifying his award."

Dunstan argued that Capital Health had no chance to outline the steps it has taken to address the issue.

"As hours of work were not an issue, [Capital Health] led no evidence to provide a balance on this issue. It was within the purview of the chair to reconvene the parties to advise them that he considered ‘hours of work’ to be central to his award which would require both parties to submit evidence," he said.

"Not having taken this path the employer [Capital Health] is effectively blindsided by an award which, at its heart, is based on something the employer understood to not be an issue. Where is the fairness, justice and reasonableness to which the chair has referred in his reasoning?"