Northwood strikers arrive at Province House

Northwood home support workers went on strike Friday, but were forced back to work after the Liberal government passed essential services legislation. (Paul Withers/CBC)

The union that represents Northwood home support workers will take the province to court to fight the McNeil government’s new essential services legislation.

The law passed Saturday during a rare weekend sitting of the Nova Scotia Legislature. It prohibits home care workers from walking off the job until a deal is made with the employer on what services are essential and must remain in place.

The passage of Bill 30 ended the short-lived strike of more than 400 Northwood Homecare Ltd. employees who hit the picket lines on Friday.

They are represented by the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, which is now launching the legal challenge.

"This legislation is a serious affront to workers' rights," NSGEU president Joan Jessome said in a statement.

"We are very concerned that this government is violating workers’ rights to bargain collectively and unfairly targeting a specific group of workers."

Northwood workers are paid slightly more than $16 an hour. They are seeking raises that will bring them up to the wages paid to colleagues working in hospitals.

Premier Stephen McNeil has instead urged workers to take a 7.5 per cent wage increase over three years, and called the offer generous.

The government has argued the Essential Home-support Services Act is necessary to protect vulnerable Nova Scotians, and said it worried the union would not provide minimum essential services during a walkout. 

Jessome has called it the most heavy-handed essential services legislation in the country, and has accused the Liberal government of “softening up the public” for future health care contract battles.

The union also represents VON home care workers that had threatened to strike this week.