Nova Scotia bill to ban health-care strikes until 2015
Workers protest Province House as labour leaders promise a fight
Nova Scotia's Liberal government introduced legislation on Monday that will ban health-care strikes until April 2015, as labour leaders promised to fight the bill that will drastically reduce the number of bargaining units in the health-care system.
The government is touting Bill 1 — known as the Health Authorities Act — as a way of streamlining bargaining to reduce the number of times it negotiates new collective agreements with its unions, while the unions maintain a single bargaining association would best represent the interests of workers.
Shortly after tabling the bill in the legislature on Monday evening, the Liberal majority government moved to fast-track the legislation.
Liberal House leader Michel Samson said the bill would be pushed through second reading with an all-day sitting on Tuesday and the law amendments process slated for Wednesday.
Samson said the sudden rush was to guard against potential moves from the unions such as a wildcat strike.
"We've made it clear Bill 1 is a priority," said Samson.
Details of Health Authorities Act
Nova Scotia currently has nine district health authorities, excluding the IWK Health Centre. Those nine districts will be merged into one and the union bargaining units reduced from the existing 50 to four.
The legislation freezes all bargaining until the spring and prohibits strikes and lockouts until April 1 — the date that has been set to merge the province's health authorities.
The legislation says a mediator will be appointed to try to get the four existing public sector unions to agree to represent one of the new bargaining units defined as nursing, health care, clerical and support.
If the mediation fails to reach an agreement, the mediator becomes an arbitrator with the authority to assign a union to one of the bargaining units.
The order must be made 90 days after the bill is passed — the mediation process has 45 days to reach agreements and if the process ends up in arbitration, an additional 45 days would be added to the process.
The process assigns bargaining units, which union will represent each unit, which collective agreement will apply and integrate seniority.
The legislation will affect 23,837 employees.
Health Minister Leo Glavine said wages, benefits and pensions would not be affected by any of the changes in the legislation and some workers might not change unions if an agreement can be reached in mediation.
'We don't have to go through this turmoil'
Workers from four of the province's major public sector unions were quick to show their disdain for a bill they say will
deprive them of the right to choose who represents them.
About 500 union members marched around the Nova Scotia legislature, some carrying signs calling Premier Stephen McNeil a dictator and chanting for his resignation.
"They take this personally that the government now wants to tell them what union they're going to belong to. They already belong to a union and they want to stay in the union they're a member of," said Danny Cavanagh of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
"They're already in a union, we don't have to go through this turmoil. It's unnecessary."
Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, said the intent
of the legislation is to break up the current bargaining units.
She called the mediation provision "a farce."
"We represent all four groups right now and they want us to go to the table and horse trade our members?" she said.
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With files from The Canadian Press