October 12, 2017
After 22 days of negotiations, multiple pieces of Liberal legislation attacking workers’ rights, and employers who are attempting to take away key benefits from healthcare workers in Nova Scotia, bargaining talks have finally broken down between the Nova Scotia Council of Healthcare Unions, the NSHA and IWK.
As a result the NSHA and IWK have filed for the help of a conciliator from the Department of Labour and Advanced Education.
In Nova Scotia when a union and an employer reach an impasse in bargaining, one or both parties can apply to the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education to have a conciliator assist in resolving the stalemate. Although a conciliator cannot compel a union and an employer to reach an agreement, the impartial third party works with both sides to negotiate a settlement and to avoid labour disruption/ job action.
The Nova Scotia Council of Healthcare Unions, made up of bargaining committee members from the NSGEU, CUPE and Unifor, have been attempted to negotiate a new collective agreement since October 2016 in the face of multiple challenges.
Liberal Government legislation requires that the Council negotiate a single collective agreement to replace the multiple agreements that were in place in each of the former District Health Authorities.
Additional Liberal legislation requiring a detailed and complicated essential services plan before the Council of Unions could engage in job action, has had a severe impact on negotiations. Without a concluded essential services plan, there is no threat of job action and therefore no pressure to cause the employers to compromise in order to reach an agreement on important benefits that will make up the new collective agreement.
The work of the Councils became even more complicated when the Liberal Government enacted more legislation on August 22, 2017, which froze wages for two years, provided minimal increases after that, and fixed the retirement allowance retroactive to April 1, 2015.
This legislation was proclaimed by the Provincial Liberal Government without warning and strips 75,000 people of benefits they previously had and relied on. The unions are currently challenging this legislation in the courts.
With little accomplished at the table, the employers requested the assistance of a conciliator from the Department of Labour to assist the parties. The Health Council agrees that the appointment of a conciliator is needed.
It is expected conciliation will begin sometime in the next two months and is likely to last for many weeks due to the complexity of the task.
In the meantime, the Council of Unions' negotiators continue to attempt to establish an essential services agreement to enable unionized workers to be in a position to begin job action. The employers' essential services negotiators walked away from the table in the summer and have so far refused to continue discussions. The Council negotiators continue to finalize their essential services proposal in the hopes of re-starting discussions in the coming weeks.
This round of bargaining has been a long and at times a frustrating process for Nova Scotia health care members. The McNeil Liberals have used their majority government unlike any other provincial government in Canada to invoke multiple pieces of anti-union legislation. Employer negotiators have shown no interest in bargaining in good faith and still refuse to table their proposed changes to sick leave benefits for health care workers. As a result there is nothing more that can be accomplished at the table without the aid of a conciliator.
In spite of these barriers the Bargaining Committee has fought hard during these negotiations to protect key benefits that unions have negotiated over the past four decades. For example, employer negotiators continue to make clear they want complete control of health and dental benefits plans. If the Council of Healthcare Unions were to give up this control, the employers could make unilateral changes to benefits without the agreement of the unions.
The Health Care Council of Unions bargaining committee is made up of six members from NSGEU, three from CUPE and one from Unifor. The Nova Scotia Nurses Union (NSNU) is also part of the Health Care Council. Health Care Bargaining Council is the lead table in this round of healthcare negotiations.
For more information, please contact Unifor bargaining committee members:
Susan Gill National Representative firstname.lastname@example.org
Jamie Pollock President Local 4600 email@example.com