By TONY SEED
HALIFAX (June 20, 2001) – LAST WEEK, the Nova Scotia government introduced Bill 68, entitled “An Act to Continue Health Care Services in Nova Scotia.” The legislation is still in second reading and the legislature reconvened at midnight June 17 for round-the-clock sittings to pass the bill.
Among its provisions, the bill prohibits strikes by close to 10,000 nurses and health care workers until 2004 and allows the government to impose a contract on the public sector workers if no agreement is reached between them and the government. The legislation further stipulates that this law cannot be reviewed by the courts. The legislation provides for fines of up to $50,000 per day against any union which takes its members out on strike in defiance of the legislation and fines of $2,000 per day against any worker participating in strike actions. Department of Health officials say that the bill was patterned on back-to-work legislation imposed on striking nurses in New Brunswick earlier this year.
The legislation comes in the context of some 2,400 Halifax area nurses organized by the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union (NSGEU) and 4,300 registered and practical nurses with the Nova Scotia Nurses Union having voted to give their unions a strike mandate. They would be in a legal strike position on June 27.
On June 16 and 17, a further 2,900 X-ray and laboratory technicians, also members of NSGEU, rejected the latest government offer in their dispute and are also preparing for a June 27 strike.
The wages of nurses in Nova Scotia have only increased by 36 cents an hour over the past decade and the most senior nurse in the province makes only $23.25 per hour, compared to $30.24 in Ontario and $32 in Alberta.
The anti-worker legislation has been broadly condemned by public sector workers in Nova Scotia who consider it an attack on their rights.
Over 150 nurses and health care workers crowded into Province House in Halifax on June 15 to denounce the government’s actions. About two dozen trade union leaders, including the NSGEU, the Nova Scotia Nurses Union and the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour met over the weekend to plan their opposition to the draconian legislation.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which is not presently involved in negotiations, called for a work-to-rule by its 3,000 members in 35 hospitals across Nova Scotia, calling on workers to refuse to do overtime or to work through breaks in protest against the government’s actions.
At a press conference held June 18, the president of NSGEU stated that their members might begin rotating walkouts as early as June 19, before the legal strike deadline, in response to the government’s “declaration of war against the workers in Nova Scotia.”
The president of the Nova Scotia Teacher’s Union (NSTU), in a press release issued June 15, denounced the legislation saying, “This is perhaps the most repressive piece of legislation ever introduced by any government in the history of this province… This Act effectively suspends the Trade Union Act at the whim of cabinet.” The NSTU participated with other public sector unions in a joint press conference at the legislature June 18 to denounce the legislation.
The head of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, Rick Clarke, pointed out that the plan to outlaw a strike before it happens and allow the cabinet to dictate the terms of the contract were unprecedented. “As bad as the labour legislation has been in Ralph Klein’s Alberta or all the complaints people have had about Mike Harris’ Ontario, we have set a new benchmark … this is a preemptive strike and there is a lot of anger,” he said.
TML Daily condemns these pernicious attacks on the collective rights of workers which are part and parcel of the anti-social offensive and the restructuring which is taking place across the country as a precondition for the further imposition of the dictate of the international financial oligarchy and US imperialism through instruments such as the FTAA. The working class and people will never submit to this dictate!
TML Daily, June 20, 2001 – No. 105