rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Will arbitrator uphold labour rights for Nova Scotia health-care workers?

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Photo: Sean_Marshall/flickr

By this time next week, government-appointed mediator-arbitrator Jim Dorsey is expected to hand down his final report into which health-care worker should be represented by which health-care union.

His choices seem limited. The Health Authorities Act -- which the McNeil government introduced last fall as part of its promise to merge nine district health authorities into one -- not only mandates there be just four bargaining units for the entire system but also insists each bargaining unit be represented by one union and, further, that no union can represent more than one unit.

You couldn't have written better legislation from the government's point of view. Of course it did write it.

There is a logical, and politically popular case to be made for streamlining the administration of the health-care system and the bargaining process.

But the legislation is also precisely, politically targeted to emasculate the province's nemesis, the Nova Scotia Government Employees' Union.

The NSGEU currently represents close to half the province's 24,000 health-care workers, including 2,500 registered nurses and 660 licensed practical nurses (who will end up in one bargaining unit), and the majority of unionized workers in public health, addiction and care coordination (another bargaining unit).

The new law -- and the arbitrator's carefully constrained mandate -- will likely force nurses and LPNs into the government's union of choice: the Nova Scotia Nurses Union, leaving the NSGEU with fewer, lower-paid members. That will not only effectively decimate the NSGEU financially, but also weaken its bargaining power for its remaining public sector workers.

That too may be politically popular, but it appears to be a slap in the face to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms' freedom of association provision, not to mention a dogs' breakfast of international labour laws and treaties to which Canada is a signatory.

Several legal experts -- including Charter expert Wayne MacKay and international law scholar Patrick Macklem -- made exactly those points in presentations to the arbitrator last month.

Will he listen? Can he? We shall see.

What is clear is that, whatever his decision, it will not be the end of the story. The validity of this law will almost certainly ultimately be decided by the courts.

At great financial and social cost.

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

Photo: Sean_Marshall/flickr

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.