NS: More than 400 home care workers go on strike as legislature reconvenes

By Staff, The Canadian Press
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Labour claims essential services legislation really back-to-work bill in disguise

Joan Jessome says the government shouldn’t be using the “hammer of legislation” to squelch the collective bargaining process.

[HALIFAX, NS] – More than 400 home-care workers in Halifax walked off the job Friday to back their demands for higher wages.

However, the provincial government has said it will move swiftly to limit the impact by passing essential service legislation that will force most of the strikers back to work in the days ahead.

The striking workers, members of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, say they want to receive the same pay that their colleagues in hospitals receive.

Premier Stephen McNeil says the Liberal government offered a three-year contract with a 7.5 per cent raise, but that offer has been pulled from the negotiating table now that the strike has started.

The home-care workers supply services provided by Northwood Homecare, which means about 1,800 frail and elderly people living at home will no longer receive their help.

Union president Joan Jessome has said the legislation will also have an impact on the Victorian Order of Nurses and home-care workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Under the proposed law, the province and the union will be required to determine who is considered an essential worker. If an agreement can’t be reached, the matter will be submitted to the Nova Scotia Labour Board.

This is the first major dispute the government has faced since it assumed power last fall. McNeil’s response has drawn criticism from union officials.

Jessome says the government shouldn’t be using the “hammer of legislation” to squelch the collective bargaining process.

Administrators at Northwood say alternative arrangements have been made to help some, but not all home-care clients.

On Thursday, McNeil rejected an offer by the union to settle the dispute through arbitration.

He said the government’s latest offer was “generous,” noting that similar deals have been accepted by 90 per cent of public-sector workers.

With the governing Liberals holding a large majority in the house, the legislation was expected to encounter few hurdles.

Under the latest contract offer, hourly wages for Northwood home-care workers would rise from $16.67 to $17.95 as of April 1 in a three-year retroactive deal, Jessome said. Hospital workers doing similar jobs will make $18.83 as of April 1.

McNeil has said the province can't afford that kind of raise.

Organizations: Nova Scotia Government, General Employees Union, Canadian Union of Public Employees Nova Scotia Labour Board

Geographic location: HALIFAX

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