Unifor negotiating committees in long-term care and supportive living in Nova Scotia recently gathered in Halifax and Sydney to prepare for bargaining with their employers.
“These workers have been without a contract, without a pay increase for years because of the Stephen McNeil government’s attacks on collective bargaining and wage freezes. We share their frustration and are inspired by their resolve to achieve fair contracts for the members they represent,” said Lana Payne, Atlantic Regional Director.
Most health care and community service workers in the province have been without a contract since October 31, 2014. The government has legislated wage freezes and retirement concessions for tens of thousands of public sector workers, including about 4,500 Unifor members who work in a number of health and community-related sectors such as long-term care.
In addition to getting to the bargaining table for the long-term care and community sector members, Unifor, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and Nova Scotia Nurses Union are part of the Nova Scotia Council of Unions tasked with negotiating four collective agreements for four groups of acute care workers (nursing, health care, service and clerical).
Historically, acute care agreements were reached first and agreements in long-term care followed with similar wage patterns, but because of the recent interference by the provincial government in collective bargaining, interference that gave additional power to health care employers, negotiations have progressed very slowly.
Employers are seeking more concessions from the unions than even what Premier McNeil had legislated.
“People assume that if you are in the public sector that you are well-paid. What needs repeating is that thousands of workers in hospitals and long-term care homes earn modest wages, many are employed in part-time and casual work and most of them are women. Let’s be clear, McNeil’s wage freezes have a gender lens,” said Shauna Wilcox, health care sector representative on the National Executive Board, after a pre-bargaining meeting Sydney last week.
Local leaders have decided to start to prepare for bargaining for its more than 2,000 members in long-term care and the community sector, on account of the slow pace of progress in acute care negotiations.
“It just didn’t make sense to wait on a new agreement for acute care workers,” said Katha Fortier, Assistant to the National President. “Our bargaining committees have made a lot of progress already and I know everyone is looking forward to rolling up their sleeves and getting to the table.”
Members in Halifax also shared stories about their growing workloads, higher acuity of patients and how staff to patient ratios are pushing the health care system to the limit.
“There are set limits for workers in daycares for children yet when it comes to seniors there are no standards,” said one long-term care worker. Many expressed the sentiment about how unfair this was to residents and seniors.