Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia Brings in Law to Impose Wage Deal on 75,000 Public Workers

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia Brings in Law to Impose Wage Deal on 75,000 Public Workers

Article excerpt

Nova Scotia sets wages for public workers

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HALIFAX - Union leaders were quick to condemn sweeping labour legislation tabled Monday by the Nova Scotia government, saying the bill undermines collective bargaining for 75,000 public servants by seeking to impose wage settlements through the back door.

Finance Minister Randy Delorey said tough decisions had to be made to deal with the province's "vulnerable" finances, which he said are being dragged down by declining economic growth and a projected deficit that has increased by $119 million to $240 million since September.

Public sector wages make up just over half of the government's $10 billion in annual expenses. For every one percentage point increase in wages, expenses rise by $52 million, finance officials said.

Under the proposed Public Services Sustainability Act, the Liberal government would impose restrictions on wage increases, but Delorey said the bill won't be proclaimed law unless the results of collective bargaining threaten the government's fiscal objectives.

He declined to explain what would trigger proclamation.

"The government is not taking this step lightly," he said before tabling the legislation. "These tough choices are necessary."

The bill has been introduced to "encourage negotiations," the government said. But union leaders saw it differently.

"The government is showing that it is willing to do whatever it takes to put their plan forward," said Jason MacLean, spokesman for the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union -- the province's largest public sector union.

"Not only do they have the gun to our head, they have a round in the chamber."

Danny Cavanagh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, issued a statement saying Bill 148 bypasses workers' rights to free collective bargaining.

Cavanagh said it's the federation's opinion that the act is contrary to a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling that found the right to collective bargaining was protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

John McCracken, spokesman for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, offered a blunt assessment: "This is a dark day for labour relations in Nova Scotia. …

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