Nova Scotia civil servants vote down contract offer, call for more talks
Union president says a call for arbitration is not being considered at this time
Provincial civil servants have rejected a contract offer from the Nova Scotia government by a rate of 94 per cent, and union leadership wants to return to the bargaining table.
More than 60 per cent of 7,300 employees eligible to vote on the deal cast ballots.
In announcing the result, Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union president Jason MacLean called on the provincial government to resume negotiations.
"Come back and bring a fair deal," he said. "We're willing to sit down and talk."
Won't give up benefits
Voting on the deal, which was reached more than a year ago, started on Monday and wrapped up Wednesday at noon.
The offer on the table included the same wage package the government has proposed to all unions: a four-year contract that starts with a two-year wage freeze followed by a three per cent increase in the final two years. The public service award, which is paid out on retirement, would be discontinued for any new hires and accrual for existing employees would be frozen.
MacLean said his members aren't interested in giving up the public service award, a benefit they previously bargained for.
Change in recommendation
When the tentative agreement was first reached, it was recommended to members by their executive. However, following the first contract rejection by teachers and learning that Bill 148 would not impact members' powerful job protection clause, NSGEU leaders changed their recommendation and delayed a vote.
Civil servants are prevented by law from going on strike but are contractually permitted to go to arbitration. Should the union choose to take that step, it will almost certainly cause Premier Stephen McNeil to trigger Bill 148, legislation that would impose the rejected contract on the union.
Government wants to talk
Finance Minister Randy Delorey said he was disappointed the union did not accept the "fair offer," which was "affordable to Nova Scotians."
Delorey said government officials would talk with union leadership to determine what happens next. He said the government would need some idea of what the union would bring to the table and make a decision based on that.
"Our fiscal position has been very clear," he said. "That means that any plan that comes forward that gets negotiated has to respect our ability to pay and not put at risk our fiscal plan."
Not worth the paper it's written on
The premier has previously said he would not allow an arbitrator to determine what the province can or cannot afford to pay workers, which could ultimately impact the Liberals' ability to balance the budget.
Delorey reiterated that point on Wednesday. Bill 148 would be proclaimed if government believes "the fiscal plan is put in jeopardy," he said.
But MacLean said the union isn't thinking about arbitration, mediation or conciliation: they want to negotiate. He said the union isn't worried about Bill 148.
"If [the government] want to proclaim it have at 'er. We don't think it's worth the paper it's written on. "
With files from Jean Laroache.