Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Health Authority accuses unions of failing to bargain

The provincial health authority and IWK Health Centre are accusing unions of failing to come to the table to negotiate new collective agreements.

Union head says delay is due to complicated nature of merging collective agreements

There has been little progress on new collective agreements more than a year since the merger of the district health authorities. (Martin Barraud/Getty Images)

Officials with the Nova Scotia Health Authority and IWK Health Centre are accusing union representatives of refusing to come to the bargaining table.

In a letter to Labour Minister Kelly Regan on Monday, health officials asked the minister to refer the matter to the province's labour board. Regan granted the request on Tuesday.

The two sides have made virtually no progress on contract talks since the district health authorities were merged and bargaining responsibility for union members was assigned to four councils of unions more than a year ago.

But the reason for that lack of progress depends on whom you ask.

Health authority says unions won't meet

Carmelle d'Entremont, vice-president of people and organizational development for the health authority, said that despite multiple requests the unions won't come to the table. In the meantime, agreements have expired and efforts to streamline 50 contracts into four are at a standstill.

"That means that there is inconsistency in terms and conditions of employment for employees across the province," d'Entremont said Tuesday.

Unions have said they don't want to begin bargaining until essential-services agreements are in place, but d'Entremont said there is no legal reason why bargaining can't happen at the same time. (Essential service agreements dictate who is still required to work to ensure service delivery, in the event of a strike.) The longer it takes to get to the table, the longer it will take to have contracts that reflect the new province-wide management of the system, she said.

Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, says getting essential-services agreements in place takes time. (CBC)

"This is an avenue we need to pursue to initiate the process," d'Entremont said of the call for the labour board's assistance.

But Nova Scotia Nurses' Union president Janet Hazelton said delays are simply due to the complicated nature of merging collective agreements and bringing together groups to work together for the first time.

Evaluating each unit, one by one

While it's not a legal requirement to have essential-services agreements in place before bargaining begins, Hazelton said the process takes time and is one of the few points of leverage for unions.

"All of these units have to be looked at individually in order that we make sure that there's enough staffing on to provide safe care, but not too much that makes our strike ineffective," she said.

More to discuss than just wages

While there is a threat of an imposed wage pattern from the province and the government has said there wouldn't be additional money added during talks, d'Entremont said collective agreements are about more than just wages.

"Issues around benefits — sick benefits, vacation leave — all of those things need to be resolved because currently we have a patchwork," she said.

Another issue is that as long as the expired collective agreements are in place the health authority is restricted by the geographical boundaries of the former district health authorities.

That means the ability of an employee to move for work, or for the health authority to move services, is severely limited until new collective agreements are in place.