I would like to address some recent criticisms of the government’s plans for legislation to ensure Nova Scotians are not denied access to health care or continuing care by strikes or lockouts. The comments come from Rick Clarke, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour. I appreciate the sincerity of his position, but I think the government perspective would also be valuable to your readers. First and foremost, the government is not proposing to eliminate the right to collective bargaining in the health-care and related community-services sectors. Employees and employers will continue to bargain, as equals, independently of government. They are free to raise issues, drop issues, compromise, make deals and bargain as hard as they ever have. The difference is that if they are unable to reach an agreement, the disputed issues will go to an independent arbitrator or panel, chosen by the parties themselves, for a binding decision. Like a strike or lockout, binding arbitration poses a risk that both sides would rather avoid, so they are well motivated to bargain in good faith. But unlike a strike or lockout, binding arbitration does not pose a risk to the public. And it’s important to remember that even the possibility of a strike has a real and immediate effect on people who need care. A modern health-care system is a complex network of people and services that operates under tight tolerances. It cannot stop and start on a dime. If a work stoppage appears imminent, managers have to react in the same way a good driver would take their foot off the gas when approaching a crosswalk or school zone. Unfortunately, in the health services that decision has an effect on care. Not just in hospitals, but also in long-term and continuing-care facilities, where some of our most vulnerable citizens live and receive care. That effect is why other vital services in Nova Scotia — doctors, police, corrections, firefighters, civil servants, and highway workers — already bargain under a binding arbitration system, with no right to strike or lock out. That is why eight other provinces use either binding arbitration or curtail strikes with essential-services legislation. Mr. Clarke says there have been only three “strikes” in the health sector in the past 25 years. He refers to three rounds of bargaining that included job action, but I have to add that those instances resulted in more than 100 separate work stoppages — strikes — at medical centres, nursing homes and continuing-care facilities across the province. Mr. Clarke says the affected unions will not consult on this issue because the government has a “predetermined outcome.” But the government has said from the outset that it was open to compelling alternatives. Unfortunately, none have been received to date. This makes the refusal to participate in consultations all the more regrettable, because designing a binding-arbitration system involves much detail and we continue to welcome union participation. Lastly, I would like to address Mr. Clarke’s assertion that the right to strike is required to attract health-care workers to the province and encourage existing ones to stay on the job longer. If that were true, then workers should be streaming here from the eight provinces where the right to strike has been severely limited by essential-services legislation or eliminated. I believe the truth is that health-care workers are focused on helping others, and don’t want the stressful internal conflict that comes with the prospect of a strike. I believe the stability offered under a fair and independent arbitration system is actually an incentive for people to come here and stay on the job longer.
May 1 to March 31, 2009: 6.5 per cent increase to $8.10 per hour. April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010: 6.2 per cent increase to $8.60 per hour. April 1, 2010 to Sept.30, 2010: 6.9 per cent increase to $9.20 per hour. Oct.1, 2010 to March 31, 2011: 4.8 per cent increase to $9.65 per hour. After March 31, 2011, minimum wage will be adjusted annually based on the Consumer Price Index. For more information on minimum wage in Nova Scotia, visit www.gov.ns.ca/enla/employmentrights/ . By Oct. 1, 2010, Nova Scotians earning minimum wage will make $9.65 per hour. Mark Parent, Minister of Environment and Labour, accepted all the recommendations of the minimum wage review committee. Beginning May 1, employees earning minimum wage in Nova Scotia will receive annual increases that, by 2010, will have them earning more than the low-income cutoff line, a commonly used poverty indicator. “Government has a vision for Nova Scotia,” said Mr. Parent. “A vision where every Nova Scotian can live a safe, healthy, and prosperous life,” said Mr. Parent. “Increasing minimum wage annually will help improve the lives of more then 20,000 Nova Scotians.” Community Services Minister Judy Streatch said, “Tackling poverty is a responsibility we should all share. It will take a co-ordinated effort by government, business and many other community organizations to make a difference. “Increasing the minimum wage is a strategic step forward. It will provide greater financial stability for many Nova Scotians.” In 2007, the minister of Environment and Labour asked the committee to look at a formula to determine annual increases in minimum wage to offer more predictability in setting budgets and projections for costs and income. Annual increases to minimum wage over the next three years will be as follows: