Nova Scotia

Civil servants with NSGEU reach tentative deal with N.S. government

The province and the union representing roughly 7,600 civil servants hammered out a tentative new collective agreement Friday.

Joan Jessome says union representing 7,600 workers was forced to swallow 'poison pill'

NSGEU President Joan Jessome said in a statement Friday the union has reached a tentative deal for civil servants with the Nova Scotia government. (CBC)

The province and the union representing roughly 7,600 civil servants have hammered out a tentative new collective agreement.

But it's not a deal the union wanted, said Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Government and General Employees Union. She says the bargaining committee felt pressured by the possibility the government would impose a contract.

"There was no bargaining. This is not collective bargaining in no way shape or form," Jessome said Friday. 

The deal is for four years, she said. It includes a wage freeze for the first two years and a total three per cent bump in pay over the last two. 

Maureen MacDonald, interim leader of the opposition New Democrats, said this week she believed the Liberal government would impose contracts on public sector employees. 

That prospect coloured negotiations, Jessome said. 

"This was, 'Here's the deal. If you don't take it, here's the legislation.' Pick your poison," she said.

In an interview with CBC News, Premier Stephen McNeil would not confirm whether such legislation was being contemplated.

"Listen, they're free to speculate as they wish," McNeil said.

"But I'm very pleased that we were able to come to the table and find a resolution that works for both sides and fits within our fiscal framework."

Job security was the priority: Jessome

Union members have said job security was a priority, so that's why the deal was struck, Jessome said. The union's bargaining committee recommends members ratify it. 

"We looked at what the offer was and what the legislation could do," Jessome said. "We took the lesser of two evils, really."

The offer is for a four-year deal, rather than a five-year agreement the McNeil government sought, Jessome said. The union wanted a three-year deal.

Another sticking point, the long-term service award — which paid employees a week's wages per year of service upon retirement — has been frozen going forward, Jessome said. Employees who already accrued time will receive that payout, but no one new can partake, nor any new time added, she said.

Jessome says a win for the union includes technical language around "a huge job-security provision" that will remain the same, as will rules for employees moving between departments. 

The last agreement with civil servants expired March 31. The new contract, if ratified, will be back dated. 

The province says in a news release that negotiations began Oct. 21 and the two sides met for five days.

A tentative agreement was reached Friday. Members will vote by electronic ballot in the first week of December, Jessome said.

NSGEU represents all provincial civil servants except managers and highway workers, Jessome said.