Home care law

Bill 30, the Essential Home-support Services Act, passed Saturday during an unusual weekend sitting of the Nova Scotia Legislature. (Anjuli Patil)

Striking Northwood home support workers will be heading back to work after a new law restricting strike action was passed during a rare weekend sitting of the Nova Scotia Legislature.

The union that represents workers says home visits will resume Sunday.

Bill 30, the Essential Home-support Services Act, makes a strike by home care workers illegal until the workers and management agree on what services must continue during a walkout.

Joan Jessome, the president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, called the new law the most “heavy-handed” essential services legislation in the country.

She said the union might try to challenge the legislation in court and is meeting with lawyers on Monday.

Jessome accused the McNeil government of trying to "soften up the public" for future contract battles with other health care workers.

"This really was not about protecting the public," Jessome said. "It really was about them looking good about essential services and softening the public for the rest of health care bargaining coming up."

More than 400 workers with Northwood Homecare Ltd. walked off the job Friday morning in a dispute over wages. They want to be paid the same as colleagues working in hospitals.

"In our view, there's a generous offer on the table," Premier Stephen McNeil said. "It’s my hope that they will see that for what it is and accept the offer.

"If they choose not the accept the offer then they always… (can) walk out again, go to strike, but they will have to provide essential services to the citizens."

But Jessome said the bill essentially takes away the right to strike, as negotiations with an employer over essential services could drag on and take months to end up before the Labour Board.

'Never easy'

The Liberal government says it introduced the legislation Friday to protect vulnerable patients as it worried the union would not provide minimum essential services.

"This is never easy for anyone. There’s no question about that," McNeil said.

The NDP had initially refused to give permission for a weekend sitting, but changed its position late Friday afternoon. Interim NDP Leader Maureen MacDonald said her party ultimately couldn't stop the bill.

But the New Democrats remain opposed to the new law.

"What the Liberals have done is play a game of chicken, pitting home care workers against their patients," MacDonald said in a statement.

"On Friday, we had a situation where home care workers were being stripped of their ability to collective bargain while their patients were being forced to find their own home care."