Nova Scotia's NDP government is urging the union that represents thousands of hospital workers and school support staff outside Halifax to get back to the negotiating table as strike deadlines loom.
Talks between the province and the Canadian Union of Public Employees broke down over the one per cent wage increase being offered to workers. The union is asking for 2.9 per cent to maintain wage parity with workers in Halifax.
Deputy Premier Frank Corbett said Tuesday that the union's wage demand is unrealistic.
"That's negotiating through the rearview mirror and not through the windshield," he said. "On a go-forward basis, we have economic realities of this province and we're making the best offer financially that the province can put forward when you consider that we have a $500-million plus deficit."
Corbett said he understands that a strike at 33 hospitals, every school outside the Halifax Regional School Board and the three French schools in metro would be an inconvenience. But the province must control its spending, he said.
Walkout could start Monday
The 3,300 members of CUPE represented at the eight district health authorities around the province are poised to go on strike Monday. The workers include clerical, housekeeping, laboratory and X-ray staff.
About 3,000 support staff in schools around the province, also represented by CUPE, have been in a legal strike position since December and will set a strike date Wednesday.
CUPE spokesman John McCracken said that maintaining wage parity is the union's bottom line.
"Without maintaining wage parity, the current offer is not going to do it," he said.
McCracken said it's only fair that X-ray technicians in New Glasgow, for example, be paid the same as their colleagues doing the same job in Halifax. And he doesn't buy the government's line that it can't afford the 2.9 per cent wage increase.
"I've never sat down with an employer in collective bargaining who said, 'Well, we've got lots of money this round. What can we give you?' Employers never have money ever, ever."
A strategy meeting will be held this week to decide what to do next, he said. No negotiations are planned. The health-care workers could launch a strike as early as early as midnight Monday.