Wage bill passed in Nova Scotia legislature following marathon debate

HALIFAX -- Fractious legislation that would impose a wage settlement on 75,000 public sector workers in Nova Scotia was passed Friday following a marathon debate in the provincial legislature.

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The Liberal government used its majority to push through the Public Services Sustainability Act by a vote of 30 to 14, following the third all-night session this week.

If proclaimed, the law would impose a two-year wage freeze on virtually every public servant in the province, followed by a three-per-cent raise over the next two years.

It would also impose restrictions on arbitrated settlements, which the government says is necessary to keep its expenses in line with its fiscal targets.

The government maintains the bill won't take away collective bargaining rights because public sector unions would be able to negotiate contractual matters other than wages.

"This bill does not legislate contracts in the public service," Finance Minister Randy Delorey told the legislature.

"What the bill is, is legislating a framework and a directive to public-sector employers that they have a limited amount of new money to be brought into the system."

Delorey said the government's decision to move ahead wasn't being taken lightly.

"What we are trying to do is to align our investments in the province of Nova Scotia with our ability to pay," he said.

However, union leaders have condemned the legislation, saying it undermines collective bargaining for public servants.

In a news release the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour said the legislation will not go unchallenged.

"The Liberals unconstitutional legislation attempts to take away workers' rights to free and fair collective bargaining," said Danny Cavanagh, the organization's president.

"Stephen McNeil and the Liberals have forced through legislation that will be challenged in the courts and in the streets every step of the way."

The fight over the bill is the latest in a series of confrontations between the government and its public sector unions since Premier Stephen McNeil came to power in 2013. Most notable was a new law passed in the spring that reduced the number of bargaining units for health workers from 50 to four.

The wage pattern established by the new law is the same rejected last month by the province's 9,000 teachers. The province's largest union, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, responded by delaying a ratification vote on a similar deal until mid-January.

The legislature wrapped up its fall session with the passage of the bill.



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