Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia wage package bill called 'huge step backwards' by public

The public is now getting its chance to speak about the McNeil government's Bill 148 that could impose a wage settlement on 75,000 public sector workers.

31 members of the public are expected to respond at Province House between Tuesday and Wednesday

Nancy MacCready-Williams, CEO of Doctors N.S., joined members of the public in opposing Bill 148 and Province House on Tuesday evening. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

The public is now getting its chance to speak about the McNeil government's Bill 148 that could impose a wage settlement on 75,000 public sector workers.

Nova Scotia's politicians spent the night debating the merits of the controversial bill that would grant the governing Liberals the power to set public sector wages for the next four years.

Province House will sit 22 hours on Tuesday. The day is wrapping up with the Law Amendments Committee hearing from the public who have asked to speak on the proposed law.

A total of 18 people are scheduled to speak until 10:00 p.m. Another 13 will be in line when the Law Amendments Committee resumes at 8:00 a.m. Wednesday.

'A huge step backwards'

Yarmouth High School science teacher Wally Fiander drove to Halifax to have his voice heard.

The wage package in the bill is based on the offer members of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union rejected at the beginning of the month and civil servants were expected to vote on early in the new year.

He said wages and the length of contract are things that should be negotiated.

"I think it's a huge step backwards for the working public in Nova Scotia," he said.

Fiander is also disappointed the deal can't be taken to an arbitrator for a final decision.

"An arbitrator would give a fair ruling and if this government is convinced this is a fair offer for teachers or for the other workers in the province, then why would they be afraid of an arbitrator?" he asked.

Finance Minister Randy Delorey said the province can't risk losing a costly arbitration.

"We have a history in this province where arbitration and arbitrators have issued compensation increases, particularly around wages that were unsustainable and unaffordable for the province and we continue to pay for it in the future," Delorey said.

The arbitration option

Under Bill 148, wages would be frozen for the first two years of the contract with workers then receiving a three per cent increase over the remaining two years.

Wage increases could go higher if the unions agree to take less elsewhere.

Medical residents are the only group to have accepted the wage offer, but not all doctors are willing to take it.

Doctors Nova Scotia criticized the bill as unwarranted. The group is eligible for arbitration after negotiating with the province for months.

CEO Nancy MacCready-Williams said they are still willing to work with the province.

"We don't feel it's necessary. We've never had to resort to arbitration, but I think it's important that there is an issue resolution process in place for anyone who sits at the negotiation table."

The bill is grinding its way towards passage later this week or early next week.

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