Dexter: essential services law not needed for N.S. health-care workers

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HALIFAX - Nova Scotia is the only province without a law restricting strikes in the health-care sector and none of the party leaders think that should change.
Premier Darrell Dexter said Wednesday he doesn't favour restrictions on collective bargaining, although it can create consternation.
"In the end, what they deliver is stability, they deliver productivity," he said. "I think that's what workplace democracy is about.
"When it comes to things like essential services agreements, those should be negotiated because they can be negotiated as part of contracts as well, and frequently are, and I just think that works better."
Hospital workers in Alberta, Ontario and Prince Edward Island don't have the right to strike and have a system of arbitration to settle contracts.
The other provinces have essential services legislation, which requires a certain number of unionized employees to keep working if the union strikes to back its demands.
Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said Nova Scotia effectively has essential services legislation already because collective agreements require emergency services staffing plans.
McNeil said he thinks those plans should be hammered out in times of labour peace, not days before a possible strike.
"(The government) should have been doing this in advance while there was labour stability," McNeil said.
He said the legislation in other provinces hasn't stopped labour unrest and strikes.
About 4,100 Canadian Union of Public Employees health-care workers could walk off the job Monday. They're employed at 33 hospitals outside the Capital District Health Authority.
A CUPE spokesman could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Rick Clarke, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, said he saw on Monday evening the emergency plan CUPE and the employer worked out. He said that process is why Nova Scotia doesn't have legislation like other provinces, and he doesn't see that changing.
"I don't envisage that happening any time in the near or even the long term because, as this government's been saying through this process, they're supporting the collective bargaining process," Clarke said.
Interim Tory Leader Karen Casey also doesn't think legislation is necessary, a change from the position she had as part of the minority Tory government that brought forward a law in 2007 that would have taken away the right to strike from health workers and replaced it with arbitration.
"That was what was deemed to be necessary at the time, but I would not suggest that we bring back that legislation," Casey said.
Casey said her first choice would be to have an agreement outside of legislation to protect health care.
Another 3,000 CUPE school support workers outside the metro Halifax region could also go on strike Monday. There have been no talks between the union and government for more than a week.
New Democrat backbenchers said Wednesday they've been hearing from constituents - both union members and citizens - about the potential labour stoppage.
Some hospitals are scaling back services and plan to discharge patients in the next few days.
"There are grave concerns, but we hope that there will be some kind of settlement," said Pictou East member Clarrie MacKinnon.
Gary Ramey of Lunenburg West said he was satisfied with how the union and government have handled themselves to this point.
"People, I believe, are trying to solve a difficult issue, and difficult issues aren't solved quickly," he said.
A key issue for both groups of workers is getting the same 2.9 per cent raises as their metro Halifax counterparts. The province, facing a $525-million deficit, is offering one per cent, although the school workers have been offered 2.9 per in the first two years of a four-year deal.
The province couldn't say Wednesday how much the union's demands would cost taxpayers.

Organizations: Canadian Union of Public Employees, Capital District Health Authority, Nova Scotia Federation of Labour CUPE school

Geographic location: HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, Alberta Ontario Prince Edward Island Pictou East Lunenburg West

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  • dave
    March 01, 2010 - 14:40

    the unions and politcians agree on one thing - screw the taxpayer.