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Nova Scotia's 'new approach' to labour: Gut collective agreements

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Photo: Charles Hoffman/flickr

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One would like to believe newly installed Finance Minister Randy Delorey meant it.

Last week he told union leaders representing teachers, health-care workers, paramedics and assorted clusters of government employees he wanted to meet to discuss a "new approach" to collective bargaining. There are more than 300 collective agreements slated for re-negotiation this year.

Lord knows, a new approach is needed.

Last March, the McNeil government unilaterally ended a strike by homecare workers by declaring them all essential -- even though it continues to pay them as if they are disposable and interchangeable.

A month later, it did the same with then-Capital District nurses even as it extended the law to cover a much larger group of health workers as essential. The unions are challenging that law in the courts.

Then last September, as part of the health-care merger, the McNeil government unilaterally -- again -- passed a law determining which health-care workers could belong to which union. It was embarrassingly forced to pivot six months later and accept the unions' initial proposal to resolve the problem it had created.

That said, Delorey is a fresh face and has a reputation for problem solving. But his letter to union leaders leaves little to the imagination about where the government is coming from and what it hopes to accomplish.

Nova Scotia, he says, faces a "stark" fiscal reality, which he blames on workers, whose salaries and benefits represent the "single largest expense the province and public sector employers face." His government's goal is to "reform our finances in order to safeguard the services Nova Scotians rely upon." But since "we have heard loud and clear from Nova Scotians that taxpayers are not interested in contributing any more," the government's unstated goal appears to be to gut its collective agreements with workers.

New approach?

As CUPE president Danny Cavanagh mused, workers may wonder why the government is exclusively targeting its employees when "university presidents are paid a full salary for sitting at home doing nothing" and the province is "handing the Royal Bank $22 million."

Delorey's meeting with the unions is slated for Tuesday. We shall see.

Photo: Charles Hoffman/flickr

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

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