NS passes Essential Services Act, forcing hundreds back to work – Halifax
Halifax – For the first time in nearly three decades, the Nova Scotia legislature sat on a Saturday. The reason was to deal with a strike by hundreds of home support workers.
The workers are from Northwood Homecare Ltd in Halifax, where 420 employees of the company walked off the job Friday in a long standing dispute over wages. The workers say they want parity with those who do the same work in a hospital setting.
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Despite the NDP and PC parties both voting against Bill 30, the Essential Home Support Services Act was passed today by the majority Liberal government.
PC Leader Jamie Baillie says the bill is a step backwards.
“Nothing got fixed today. It’s just another band-aid. How many times do we need to get to the brink of a crisis in healthcare before we actually change the way the province is run?” Baillie told reporters.
“It’s pretty clear that this is a government that puts money and those considerations as their first priority,” said Maureen MacDonald, the interim NDP leader, who calls the act bad legislation.
Despite opposition saying the new bill will set a dangerous precedent and strain labour relations in the province, Premier Stephen McNeil says the NDP had almost two years to deal with the issue but “sat on their hands.”
“It was only in July that the NDP party supported taking away the right to strike for paramedics as well as the Progressive Conservative party. Today, they’re criticizing the government for assuring that essential services legislation is in place and that we protect a workers right to strike,” McNeil told Global News moments after the bill was passed.
Friday, hundreds of people held a loud demonstration outside Province House. Saturday, was a different story. Kelly-Anne Goode was the one and only protester. She paced back and forth in front of Province House for hours, with her hands and mouth taped shut as part of a silent protest.
“I’m here because they took away our right to speak and our right to vote for a strike. They took away our rights,” Goode said.
Joan Jessome, the president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) says she isn’t surprised the bill passed. Jessome says no real negotiating took place at the table, and the they felt threatened and blackmailed to take the monetary package that was presented.
Jessome says it could take up to a year, per local to sort out what positions would be considered essential.
“The government wanted them on strike yesterday so that they could soften up the public and they would come back in as the saviors for the public services. This really was not about protecting the public, it really was about them looking good about essential services,” Jessome said.
Bill 30 ends the strike by Northwood Home Care Workers. Northwood says they are beginning the process of getting home care back to regular staffing levels. It’s expected regular service will resume Sunday at 7 a.m.
Under the new legislation, employees must keep working until their employer and union can agree on what services are essential. After that is determined, all non-essential staff can resume striking.
The NSGEU says they have not ruled out fighting the new legislation in court. A meeting with senior staff and legal counsel has been scheduled for Monday afternoon.
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