Special to PV
The McNeil Liberal government of Nova Scotia is “blindly moving ahead with unconstitutional, anti-worker legislation,” according to Nan McFadgen, the President of CUPE Nova Scotia. Last month, the government proclaimed Bill 148, the Public Services Sustainability Act, capping wage increases and freezing the long-service award as of April 2015. This will affect almost 12,000 CUPE members.
CUPE says that Bill 148 attacks the rights of union members to fairly negotiate their collective agreements, a constitutional right of all workers protected by the Canadian Charter of Freedoms.
The same Liberals, in an open letter to union members in 2013, claimed they would like to “clarify misinformation being circulated,” declaring that they “believe in the collective bargaining process, the right to strike, and protecting workers’ rights, both unionized and non-unionized.” The letter was signed by Premier McNeil.
“Reducing wages, taking away retirement income and attacking workers creates an environment that will not attract new workers and their families to live in this province,” says McFadgen. “The premier is leading us down a dark path.”
The premier says he plans to ask the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal about the constitutionality of the Bill; however, CUPE says, unions have fought and won court challenges against similar legislation in other provinces, and governments have fallen when they crossed the line on workers’ rights, at the expense of taxpayers and the people who depend on public services.
In Ontario, education workers fought back and won when the Ontario Superior Court decided in favour of education unions, ruling Bill 115 unconstitutional; and in British Columbia, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the teachers, supporting the right to collective bargaining.
“We’ll be working with our members and labour in Nova Scotia to determine the next steps in response to the McNeil Government’s failure to recognize the value of the work done by public sector workers,” says McFadgen.
Meanwhile, nurses in Nova Scotia are warning that hospitals may be affected by the province’s decision to impose Bill 148.
Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union, said the lack of respect the Liberal government has displayed to public sector workers is worrisome.
“Nurses and other health care workers make decisions every single day to go in and work overtime. But if they feel a total lack of respect from their employer and from this government, they’ll stop taking extra shifts,” she said.
Hazelton was among the leaders of seven labour groups, including the Teachers Union and the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union , who said on Sept. 6 they want to be added as participants to a legal proceeding over Bill 148, the Public Services Sustainability Act.
In 2001, nurses threatened mass resignations and a strike after the government introduced legislation that would remove their right to strike and allow cabinet to set contract terms. But Hazelton said nurses wouldn’t have to resign to cripple the health care system.
“They just have to say ‘I’m not coming in tonight,”’ she said. “Our health care system relies on a lot of people agreeing to work overtime shifts. I’m not saying this as a threat. They’d have to close units. The more you keep taking things from people and showing a lack of respect for their union, the more disappointed and the less likely people will want to help you out in a crunch.”
Nova Scotia Federation of Labour president Danny Cavanagh says there is a misconception that public sector workers have “gold-plated pensions” and “extreme wages.”
He said the government has taken a “divide and conquer” approach to workers, which is driving a wedge between union and non-union Nova Scotians. “It’s divisive,” Cavanagh said. “Everyone deserves to have a pension and retire with dignity.”