Province House, NS

What else does the Liberal government have in mind that will take away the rights of working people in Nova Scotia?

I’d like to outline the anti-worker legislation passed by this Liberal Government, and then deal with the added problems of Bill 100.

A year ago, Premier McNeil’s government passed essential service legislation that forced home support workers back to work. The Law also stripped 700 nurses from the Victorian Order of Nurses of their right to strike. All told, Bill 37 stripped the right to strike from nearly 40,000 workers in the health sector including nurses, and hospital workers, 911 operators and paramedics. Half the union members in N.S. will be affected by Bill 37.

As we all remember, 13 months ago nurses and their supporters went on a wildcat strike the morning after the bill was passed; people opposed to the bill occupied Kelly Regan’s (Minister of Labour) office, and Leo Glavine’s office. Nurses talked about how understaffing was affecting their ability to provide the level of patient care that is needed. They struck for better working conditions, which means better patient care. Still there was an illegal strike for some hours, and the fines were huge: $100,000 for breaking the law and $10,000 fines to the unions for each subsequent day on strike — plus $1000 a day for each worker on strike. The wildcat lasted just a day.

As a professor, I’m a specialist in industrial relations and in strikes in health care. I am co-author of three articles published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on the right to strike in health care — papers which have been downloaded tens of thousands of times in the last years. The research shows that if you ban health care and nurses’ rights to strike, you end up with wildcat strikes – meaning illegal strikes. That costs everyone more money, more inconvenience and more unpredictability in service delivery.

It’s not just me and my co-author who know this. The right-wing CD Howe Institute recently produced a study which also supports these conclusions.

First it was the nurses, then the homecare workers, then other hospital workers, now it’s university professors, librarians, clerks, and IT people in the universities.

So what’s next — who’s next on the Liberal Government’s hit list? Clearly the universities are next. The gibberish and backtracking aside, Bill 100 could well be unconstitutional. Bill 100 will see the universities be an arm of the government, rather independent. For years Universities have been models of collegial governance and that will be no longer under the “revitalization” plans.

Already universities such as Cape Breton University (CBU) and King’s have jumped the gun to warn of layoffs –10 per cent of faculty at CBU, to wage cuts of 10 per cent at King’s. These two universities could easily file under the terms of a revitalization plan. This could mean curtailing collective bargaining (in the case of CBU), undermining academic freedom, and removing workers’ rights.

And that’s before Bill 100 is actually passed!

After Bill 100 is passed, I can tell you who’s next — your Minister Mark Furey says the government in the new N.S. Department of Business will not allow its employees to join a union! 

I know that the Liberal government thinks its decisions are sound, but as the kids today say “Do you really want to take on the Supreme Court of Canada? Really?”

A quick lesson. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that every employee in the country has a right to free collective bargaining and to meaningful collective bargaining. In January 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that federal and provincial government employees have the right to strike.

So much for Mark Furey’s intemperate and simply wrong move to veto workers’ rights to join a union at the new Department of Business. What’s worse is that many employees at the current Nova Scotia Business Inc. (NSBI), an arm’s length pro-business agency are in a union and have rights — but not so for the new Department of Business. The government has already slashed 75 permanent jobs in the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, and cut hundreds of civil service jobs.

Now Minister Furey tells us employees who work at the Department of Business have to leave their union cards at the door –before being hired.

All in all we are looking the McNeil Liberal government launching at a systematic attack on working people in Nova Scotia — Bill 37, Bill 100 and now the ministerial edict that provincial government employees won’t be allowed to join a union. 

I think we need to fight this government if we want dignity for workers and a fair society in Nova Scotia. 

Judy Haiven is a professor of Management in the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University and an associate researcher for the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives — Nova Scotia (CCPA-NS).

Image: wikimedia commons

Judy Haiven

Judy Haiven is a retired professor of Management at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, NS. She is a founding member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada, and a member of the steering committee of Equity...