Updated: Province reacts to home care workers' strike with essential services legislation

Published on March 1, 2014
The Nova Scotia Legislature building.

Nova Scotia passed essential services legislation today after a special, two-day session of the legislature, ordering home support workers back to their jobs.

Bill 30, the Essential Home-support Services (2014) Act, requires the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) to discontinue its strike until an agreement is in place to provide essential services.

"Our first priority is to protect the health and safety of Nova Scotians, and ensure our most vulnerable citizens are taken care of," Labour and Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan said in a release. "We're disappointed the parties weren't able to reach an agreement, and concerned that the union wouldn't agree to provide a minimum level of essential services during a strike.

"We have passed legislation that ensures patients and their families can continue to count on essential home support services during a strike."

The act requires NSGEU and Canadian Union of Public Employees locals, and the employers of home support workers, including Northwood Homecare Ltd. and VON Home Support, to provide essential services during a work stoppage or lockout.

Essential service is based on the risk of death or serious health consequences if the service is not provided, including services that may cause damage to the mental or physical health of the client.

Opposition Leader Jamie Baillie issued a statement saying  “today's bill directed at Home Support Workers is yet another Liberal band-aid.

"Real change is needed to the way our health system operates," says Baillie.  “The Ivany Report calls for real 'game changers' to fix the way Nova Scotia works and we believe in that."

Calling the legislation a “half measure,” the PC release said the “Liberal bill doesn't protect patients. It allows for longer and more frequent strikes in health care. It doesn’t treat health workers fairly because it rejects independent arbitration.” 

NDP leader Maureen MacDonald said in a statement  “the Liberals have created an extremely dangerous situation that both weakens the collective bargaining rights of workers while placing health care at risk.”

“What the Liberals have done is play a game of chicken, pitting home care workers against their patients,” said MacDonald. “On Friday, we had a situation where home care workers were being stripped of their ability to collective bargain while their patients were being forced to find their own home care. It was Draconian and the worst part is, this is just the beginning from the Liberals.

“Let’s be clear, this entire conflict could have been avoided if McNeil had accepted binding arbitration. It could have been avoided if the premier hadn’t shut down negotiations. It could have been avoided had the Liberals brought back the House a week ago,” said MacDonald. “Unfortunately, the premier did none of those things. He is using these vulnerable Nova Scotians and the people who care for them to send a clear message to the rest of the public sector- they could be next.”