Local Unifor leaders who work in health care and community services met in Halifax and Sydney on Nov. 28 and 29, 2017, to talk about the ongoing impact of Nova Scotia’s Bill 148 and the challenging negotiations that are underway with the Nova Scotia Health Authority.
Despite a full-scale attack on the collective bargaining rights of health care workers by the McNeil government, Unifor’s local leadership remains steadfast in their resolve to push for fairness for the thousands of workers in the province.
“Bill 148 has hurt thousands of modest income earners, many of whom are Unifor members in workplaces such as nursing and group homes. And yet they have refused to allow the McNeil government to crush their determination or their fighting spirit,” said Lana Payne, Atlantic Regional Director, after listening to dozens of workers share stories about working on the frontlines in long term care.
Bill 148 originally passed in December of 2015 but then in August of 2017 the government imposed a wage restraint package on civil servants and health-care workers that froze workers wages for 2015 and 2016 and limited increases in 2017 to one percent, despite the rising cost of living. More than 4,500 Unifor members have been impacted by the government’s anti-worker wage restraint legislation.
One single mother reported having trouble making ends meet, while working two, part time jobs, and trying to raise two children on just $16 dollars an hour.
Many workers in Nova Scotia are reporting higher levels of stress and increased workload as kitchen and cleaning staff have been reduced. Many are now the lowest paid health care workers in the country.
Others, who work in community services group homes, expressed concerns about working alone with potentially violent clients.
One of Unifor’s bargaining committee negotiators, Susan Gill, updated the group on the slow progress at the negotiating table after conciliation began with the health care group in November. Gill explained that Bill 148 also stripped workers of rights, making this complex set of negotiations particularly difficult.
“Our leadership has been understandably frustrated with the McNeil government’s legislation that
took away our member’s right to strike, which unfairly limits their leverage to negotiate a collective agreement,” said Katha Fortier, Assistant to Unifor’s National President.
Unifor leaders said it was an uplifting two days of planning bargaining and political strategy post-Bill 148. While there is much work to do the group expressed a resounding energy to continue the fight back.
Along with mobilization and lobbying efforts to defend workers’ rights, Unifor has joined several other Nova Scotia unions in a court challenge arguing bill 148 should be struck down as unconstitutional.