HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's departments of health and education are preparing for the possibility of a massive strike later this month by workers in rural hospitals and schools.
All nine health districts have been asked to design a contingency plan that would address emergencies and cancer care, Health Minister Maureen MacDonald said Thursday.
"We've known about the possibility of a strike for some time so we've been working on the contingency plans for weeks," she said.
"Patient safety is our number 1 priority."
MacDonald said she had some assurances from CUPE, the union that represents the workers, that essential services will be maintained, but elective surgeries are already being cancelled.
Even though the health authority that covers the Halifax area would not be directly affected by a walkout, it has also been asked to come up with a plan to deal with patients who may be shipped in from other areas.
Education Minister Marilyn More also said her department was preparing for the possibility of a walkout.
All school boards have been asked to devise contingency plans.
"I think the primary responsibility and concern for all of us is to make sure that the students and staff are in a facility that is safe and clean."
More said she wouldn't speculate on how long schools could stay open without cleaning staff to mop up each school day.
The union for more than 7,000 school and hospital support staff who work outside Halifax says they will go on strike Jan. 18 if their demands aren't met.
CUPE leaders say their key issue is maintaining wage parity with workers in Halifax.
Both More and MacDonald say they hope the union and the government can return to the bargaining table.