Legislature to meet Saturday to debate home care strike bill
Union leader calls legislation aimed at keeping workers off picket line 'draconian'
There’s a deal afoot to bring back the legislature Saturday morning and turn the McNeil government’s Bill 30 into law, forcing all essential Northwood home care workers back to work.
More than 400 home support workers with Northwood Homecare Ltd. walked off the job Friday in a dispute over wages. They mounted buses destined for the provincial legislature.
NDP opposition, along with dozens of home care workers looking to speak at a committee examining the bill, threatened to delay the passage of the Essential Home-support Services Act.
Initially the NDP said it would refuse to allow the legislature to sit on Saturday and Sunday, but that changed in a deal brokered Friday evening with the Liberal government.
That lays out a faster scenario than the one voiced earlier in the day by Liberal house leader Michel Samson, who had said it could be Thursday before the bill is passed.
The Liberal government legislation will force the union to negotiate with the employer to determine which services are essential. Only non-essential workers would be allowed to go on strike.
"We believe that home care support workers are an essential part of delivery some of the home care services to the people of this province," Premier Stephen McNeil said Friday. "They need to be in place."
One of those who spoke at the legislative committee was Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union. She's called Bill 30 "draconian."
"This is an irresponsible move by the government. It has put people at risk," she said. "There's been no opportunity for any discussion or debate on this. Shame on you."
McNeil said Thursday that workers have been offered a three-year contract with a 7.5 per cent raise, but that offer would be pulled from the negotiating table once the strike started.
The home-care workers supply services provided by Northwood to about 1,800 people.
The legislation would also affect workers at the Victorian Order of Nurses and those represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Wage hike demanded
The home-care workers supply services provided by Northwood Homecare, which means about 1,800 people living at home will no longer receive their help.
"This isn't about the frail and the elderly," Jessome told The Canadian Press. "This is about busting the collective bargaining process for public-sector workers."
The striking workers say they want to receive the same pay that their colleagues in hospitals receive.
The premier said other care workers have agreed to what he calls the government's "very generous" offer and he's calling on the union to follow suit.
"We're going back to the table and that offer will not be on the table is my message. It will not be the same offer. It will be less than what is there," said McNeil.
Northwood has been preparing to deal with the walk-out, asking clients to make other arrangements and looking to bring in non-unionized staff to help with the most frail or those without family.
But clients are worried. Gail Kernick is 64 years old and gets daily help from a Northwood home support worker.
“I’m praying things are going to work out for them and things are going to go right,” she said.
More than 700 Victoria Order of Nurses home care workers in rural parts of the province are also set to strike next week
with files from the Canadian
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