Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's top court to look at controversial sections of Bill 148

Labour Minister Mark Furey said a court review will now include parts of the bill — formally known as the Public Services Sustainability Act — that deal with long-service awards.

Province has asked Appeal Court to examine bill's language on long-service award

Protesters gather in front of Province House in 2016 to protest Bill 148. (Catharine Tunney/CBC)

The provincial government is asking Nova Scotia's top court to review more sections of the legislation it used to impose a wage package earlier this year on thousands of public-sector employees, including civil servants and health-care workers.

Only parts of Bill 148, which will eventually affect all contract negotiations for the province's 75,000 public-sector workers, were initially put before the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.

On Wednesday, Labour Minister Mark Furey said the court review will now include parts of the bill that deal with long-service awards.

Bill 148 imposes a three per cent wage increase over four years and freezes long-service awards as of July 2015. Anyone hired since that date is not eligible for the payout upon retirement. The awards are typically a lump-sum payment for retiring workers with at least 10 years of service.

Labour Relations Minister Mark Furey says he hopes adding more sections of Bill 148 to a court review will avoid a lengthy legal process. (CBC)

The unions affected by the bill  — formally known as the Public Services Sustainability Act — had called for the Liberal government to put the entire document before the court and said they would go to court to make that happen.

The government announced Wednesday the review will now examine most of the act, including the long-service awards sections, in order to avoid more lengthy legal wrangling.

The decision, reached after consulting with the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, will see "a much more streamlined court process," Furey said.

"By consolidating the court process, matters can go directly to the Appeals Court and anyone interested can apply for intervenor status."

A hearing to decide intervenor status is scheduled for Jan. 18.

The government is confident the act will withstand the court review, Furey said.

Nova Scotia Federation of Labour president Danny Cavanagh said the province's top court may rule in the unions' favour against Bill 148 when it sees how far-reaching the negative effects are. (CBC)

It will spell out who makes decisions about the fiscal future of the province — "elected officials or an unelected, unaccountable third party," Furey said, referring to labour arbitrators.

Labour federation president Danny Cavanagh said it is important for the Appeals Court to see the parts of the bill that change items contained in existing contracts, such as long-service awards.

"We believe that when the court looks at the entire bill, including the pieces about reaching in and taking pieces out of the collective agreements, that the court would rule in our favour," he said Wednesday.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Bill 148 imposed a contract on Nova Scotia teachers. In fact, it was Bill 75 that imposed a contract on teachers.
    Oct 05, 2017 11:55 AM AT

With files from Jean Laroche

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