Nova Scotia

Labour officials, N.S. government to meet to discuss Bill 148

Representatives with organized labour and the Nova Scotia government will meet to discuss how to address outstanding issues with a contentious piece of legislation used to impose wage restraint.

Controversial law from former Liberal government imposed wage pattern

Labour legislation from the former Liberal government of Stephen McNeil touched off massive protests at Province House as it was being passed. Courts are now having their say on the bills. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Representatives with organized labour and the Nova Scotia government will meet to discuss how to address outstanding issues with a contentious piece of legislation used to impose wage restraint.

Bill 148, passed by the former Liberal government to impose wage patterns and remove a lump-sum retirement benefit known as the long-service award, continues to be tied up in court. Last month, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal declined to rule on whether the bill is constitutional.

At that point, major union leaders asked the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour to get a meeting with the province to discuss potential next steps. On Thursday, Labour Relations Minister Allan MacMaster told reporters the meeting will soon happen.

"I'm not going to say anything more on that today, other than to say that we want to have a good line of communication," he said. "We want to be fair. We are dealing with legislation that we were handed."

Danny Cavanagh, president of the federation of labour, said he would meet with union leaders following the meeting with MacMaster to determine how they want to proceed.

Labour Relations Minister Allan MacMaster is revealing few details about an upcoming meeting with organized labour representatives. (Robert Short/CBC)

"We're going to go into the meeting and see where things go," he said in an interview.

"I'm not making any assumptions one way or the other."

There is added motivation for this meeting following a judge's ruling this week on another piece of controversial Liberal legislation from the time of former premier Stephen McNeil.

Bill 75, which imposed a contract on teachers in 2017, was determined by a judge to be "vengeful," "terribly wrong" and unconstitutional. Premier Tim Houston said his government will not appeal that ruling. He told reporters on Thursday that his government is in talks with the teachers' union about remedies following the ruling.

Houston acknowledged there could be financial implications for that ruling, and whatever comes of talks about Bill 148. Labour costs make up a significant portion of the provincial budget, he said.

"People who are working in Nova Scotia should be fairly compensated and, where they're part of a union, that should come as a result of a union negotiation," said Houston.

Nova Scotia Federation of Labour president Danny Cavanagh says he's making no assumptions about an upcoming meeting with government officials. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

MacMaster stressed that neither piece of legislation has any bearing on ongoing contract talks with unions.

"Our government wants to be different than the last government. We don't want to be seen as antagonistic with labour."

Houston promised during last summer's provincial election that, if elected, the Tories would repeal Bill 148. More recently, they've backed away from that idea.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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