Premier Stephen McNeil said he wasn't afraid to do it.

And on Monday, his finance minister, Randy Delorey, brought in legislation that could impose a wage package on 75,000 public servants.

People paid by the province — including those who work for Crown corporations, unionized and non-unionized — would face a wage freeze over the next two years.

That will be followed by a one per cent increase in year three, a 1.5 per cent increase at the start of year four and an extra half per cent increase on the last day of the contract.

It's the salary package medical residents accepted, teachers rejected and members of the province's largest union were supposed to vote on early in the new year.

Bargaining committees will still be able to negotiate working conditions, but the proposed law could take wages off the table. 

The two sides can also agree to higher salary increases, but only if workers can find cost savings to offset the amount.

The province will turn the bill into law, but is holding off bringing it into force so unions can continue to negotiate under the terms of the proposed legislation.

CUPE condemns legislation

Mike McNeil, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Nova Scotia, was quick to condemn the proposed law.

"With his proposed Public Service Sustainability Act, Premier McNeil has made it official," he said.

"Our province now occupies the basement when it comes to treatment of public sector workers and their right to free collective bargaining."

The bill permits bargaining units to go to arbitration, but any deal cannot "exceed the framework" set in the bill.

Doctors are affected by the legislation as it suspends their right to ask for arbitration in negotiations with the province over fees for the next four years.

Provincial and family court judges are exempt from this law because their wages are set by an independent commission.

Deficit grows

Delorey introduced the Public Service Sustainability Act just hours after updating Nova Scotians on the province's finances.

According to the latest forecast, Nova Scotia is looking to end the year with a deficit of $241 million. That's more than double the estimated deficit of $97.5 million in the spring budget.

Most of that red ink is a result of the Canadian economy's lacklustre performance, which is driving down tax revenue.

In August, the government announced it wanted five-year deals with it workers with no increases in the first three years and increases of one per cent in each of the final two years.

The cash-strapped government said even a one-per cent increase in public sector salaries would add $52 million a year to expenses.

Many other public employees, such as hospital staff, have yet to start talks with the province because they are still embroiled in a protracted dispute over essential services.

The Essential Health and Community Services Act passed by the governing Liberals on April 4, 2014, lays out the rules for reaching agreement on what are considered essential services before a strike or lockout can be triggered.

Both the health unions and hospital administrators are still working through that process.