Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia to introduce 5-year labour deals with public sector unions

The unions representing more than 50,000 Nova Scotia government employees say the province plans on mandating that all future labour agreements be at least five years in length and that there will be no new money to spend on labour, the latter point being a claim the province is denying.

Unions are very disappointed with today's meeting

Joan Jessome, the president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, says Finance Minister Randy Delorey used very creative language during today's meeting, which forced unions to read between the lines. (CBC)

The unions representing more than 50,000 Nova Scotia government employees say the province plans on mandating that all future labour agreements be at least five years in length and that there will no new money to spend on labour — the latter point being a claim the province is denying.

On Tuesday afternoon, the province's new finance minister, Randy Delorey, met with union leaders to deliver its initial demands for collective bargaining as the province heads into negotiation with every teacher, nurse and civil servant in the province.

"I think we're still in shock, quite honestly," said Joan Jessome, the president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union.

She says Delorey was very creative in the language he used, which forced unions to read between the lines.

On wage increases, the unions say any increases members attain will have to balanced out by reductions elsewhere in their compensation.

"He said, 'There's no money and if there is money, it depends on what the unions bring to the employer on savings,'" said Jessome.

Delorey disputes the idea there will be no new money to be spent on labour.

"What I indicated is that we wouldn't be increasing taxes," he said.

Delorey said increased tax revenue could come just from general revenue growth.

The union leaders all say no new money would lead to an exodus of government workers and young people leaving the province.

Janet Hazelton, the president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, says other provinces would come and poach Nova Scotia nurses.

She says she recognizes there needs to be change in Nova Scotia, but the unions want to be part of the discussion on how to achieve that.

"We don't want to be told," she said.

'That's not respecting collective bargaining'

Lana Payne, Unifor's Atlantic director, says that when you approach labour leaders and say there will be certain conditions under which bargaining will take place, that isn't acting in good faith. 

"That's not respecting collective bargaining," she said.

Delorey, however, said he entered today's discussions in good faith.

"I think it's unfortunate that's the way they felt about the process," he said.

Union leaders also warned that if they can't reach labour agreements with the province, the government will introduce legislation forcing them to, a claim Delorey dodged.

"The province is committed to working through the collective bargaining process," he said.

This year is expected to be a challenging year for public sector contract negotiations in Nova Scotia because there are many expired collective agreements.

In a letter to the unions sent last week, Delorey said the province is facing a "stark fiscal reality" and that taxpayers are not interested in contributing more money.

The Liberal government has been at odds with several major Nova Scotia unions.

Last year, there were protests outside the legislature as the government passed its controversial essential services law.

The government also faced off with health-care unions over plans to reorganize bargaining units following the merger of health authorities across the province. The province finally came to a deal in March.

Nova Scotia's public sector employs roughly 50,000 workers.

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