New Brunswick

Province challenges decision that deemed no nursing-home workers are essential

Thousands of New Brunswick nursing home workers could walk off the job during a strike, the province's labour board has ruled.

On eve of strike vote, government says it's seeking judicial review of labour board decision

A union representing thousands of New Brunswick nursing home workers says an order from the province's labour board Wednesday confirms its view that none of the workers are considered an essential service. That means all of them could walk off the job if a strike occurs. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

The New Brunswick government is seeking a judicial review of a 2018 labour board decision that calls a provincial law deeming nursing home workers an essential service unconstitutional.

The government announced the move in a news release Wednesday afternoon, the day before more than 4,100 nursing home workers are set to hold a strike vote. It's not clear when the review would take place. 

The Canadian Union of Public Employees says the labour board decision means none of the workers are essential. That means they could all walk off the job if the union goes on strike. 

Earlier on Wednesday, the labour board clarified chair Robert Breen's December 2018 decision. The union and employer, the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes, asked Breen to clarify the effect of the decision.

"The order from the board is that there is no essential services for any of the nursing homes," said union spokesperson Patrick Roy of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Locals.

The association of nursing homes did not immediately comment. Funding for the nursing home workers is provided to the association by the provincial government. 

Dorothy Shephard, the minister of social development, urged the two sides to return to the bargaining table.

Shephard said in a news release the province has been working closely with the association to ensure contingency plans are in place, but hopes those plans aren't needed.

Patrick Roy says the Canadian Union of Public Employees believes the 2018 labour board decision means the province's law deeming most nursing home employees an essential service no longer applies. (Radio-Canada)

Workers at 46 nursing homes across the province will hold a strike vote Thursday, with results expected to be released Friday morning. 

Nursing homes have scrambled to plan for a potential strike that would leave them short-staffed. Several have contacted family members of residents who may need to help care for those residents if the workers go on strike.

Roy repeated that the union has not actually decided to strike even if it gets a mandate from its members Thursday. He said he hopes the vote will help bring the parties back to the bargaining table. 

Without a contract since 2016

Contract talks have been ongoing since the last collective agreement expired in 2016. Employees rejected a tentative agreement in May 2018 because it didn't include a big enough wage increase. 

Current wages range between $18 and $24 an hour, depending on the position. 

New Brunswick's 2009 Essential Services in Nursing Homes Act was passed to ensure workers kept caring for nursing home residents.

About the Author

Shane Magee

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Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

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