On Thursday, in the warm afterglow of a Throne speech that zeroed in on "unsustainable [public sector] wage increases" and promised a "hiring slow down and steps to achieve a more sustainable wage pattern," Health Minister Leo Glavine was clear as glass.
Premier Stephen McNeil's government had had it up to here with recalcitrant health-care unions. The unions had come up with a proposal for a collective bargaining process for the newly merged, streamlined, one-size-fits-all provincial health authority, and the government had flatly rejected it. The time for talk was past before it began.
"We will identify who will represent nurses, who will represent technologists, clerical and administration," Glavine told reporters precisely.
Legislation would be introduced during Monday night's legislature session.
Less that 24 hours later -- in the aftermath of the first cold bath of what promised to be many protests at Province House -- Glavine was back at the microphone.
He had, he now said, misspoke himself. What he meant to say, he said instead, was he would introduce legislation to reduce the number of contracts from 50 down to four. The legislation would lay out a process to get to that point, leaving it up to a mediator to determine which unions get to represent which workers for which contracts.
Un-obfuscated… the workers may still not get to choose which union will represent them but the government is now doing its PR best not to be the one to say so.
The government's goal hasn't really changed. Despite McNeil's assurance he is "not at all going to war with organized labour," he wants to de-claw the Nova Scotia Government Employees' Union and undermine its president, Joan Jessome. What better way than to shuffle the 3,500 metro nurses and licensed practical nurses currently represented by the NSGEU -- more than 10 per cent of its membership -- off to the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union?
Watch for it.
We'll also see soon enough if the government's eagerness to confront in the name of fiscal responsibility extends to the group that accounts for the single largest health-care cost -- the $800 million a year we spend on doctors' services. The province's contract with Doctors Nova Scotia expires in March 2015.
Hold your breath.
This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.
Photo: Charles Hoffman/flickr
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