N.S. labour unions say improvements needed

Many Nova Scotians are enjoying a holiday today, or holiday pay, thanks to efforts by the labour movement dating back to the 1880s.
Workers at the Halifax Labour Day rally listen to Labour Minister Marilyn More speak. (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

Labour unions in Halifax celebrated the Labour Day with a march that ended with a gathering on the Halifax Common featuring speakers, music and a barbecue.

Labour Day dates back to the late 19th Century, as workers celebrated and campaigned for improved rights and wages.

In Nova Scotia, the past year has been especially trying for workers with large layoffs from one end of the province to the other.

The Bowater Mersey Mill in Liverpool closed in June, throwing 400 people out of work.

BlackBerry-maker RIM in Bedford laid off almost 100 people in August and in Port Hawkesbury, about 1,000 people have been without jobs since the NewPage plant was idled.

Tony Tracey, president of the Halifax-Dartmouth and District Labour Council, says Nova Scotia is a great place to work, but there is always room for improvement.

"Nova Scotia has one of the fewest numbers of statutory holidays of any province in the country," Tracey said.

"We'd [also] like to see improvements to retirement security for all Canadians. Right now many workers are retiring in poverty ... we want to see changes in legislation on both the national level and the provincial level."


Courtney Wentzell travelled to Halifax today to attend Labour Day celebrations. He's a former member of the union executive at the now-closed Bowater mill. He says he was happy to see the strong turnout, but says in Liverpool, there's a lot of anxiety.

"The mood is probably no better than it was on the announcement of closure," he said.

Wentzell took a severance package and 18 others have found work in Alberta, but he says he's hoping the province will buy land from Bowater, creating jobs for the several hundred who remain unemployed.

Overall, labour leaders say relations with the provincial NDP government are good.

"We've had some ability to work with the government compared to what we see in other provinces where they're facing cutbacks and wage freezes and all sorts of those kinds of things," said Danny Cavanagh, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Nova Scotia's Labour Minister Marilyn More, who was at Monday's rally, says the province's workforce is relatively stable and they're managing to resolve most agreements.

She says despite the big losses, new jobs are being created and the province is putting effort into safeguarding jobs.