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‘Enough is enough’: labour activists fed up with NS government

Eric Wynne waves to a supporter while joining other Halifax Chronicle Herald newsroom union members as they picket outside the newspaper's office after walking off the job in Halifax on Saturday, January 23, 2016.
Eric Wynne waves to a supporter while joining other Halifax Chronicle Herald newsroom union members as they picket outside the newspaper's office after walking off the job in Halifax on Saturday, January 23, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Labour relations in Nova Scotia are at an all-time low, with the province lacking a jobs plan, according to Nova Scotia Federation of Labour president Danny Cavanagh, and union leaders say they want to see change.

READ MORE: Talks between Nova Scotia Teachers Union, government will resume

Cavanagh held a press conference Friday morning in Halifax to discuss the state of labour relations. He says with 96 per cent of collective agreements up for negotiation in the province, labour unrest will continue.

“If the past is any indication of the future, it doesn’t look good for 2017,” Cavanagh said.

“Enough is enough” for union leaders

Since coming into power, Premier Stephen McNeil has been criticized by union leaders across the province for his government’s negotiating tactics and for imposing back-to-work legislation.

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McNeil has said he will hold a firm line during negotiations with public sector workers and live within the province’s budget.

Asked if labour management in the province was being mismanaged, McNeil said they had “worked very hard, diligently to continue to build on relationships that we have with our partners.”

He says much of what is heard in public is related to the financial side of contract negotiations and compensation, but that there is lots of “other work” that can happen.

“Obviously, when it comes to the financial ramifications of any agreement, we don’t always agree. These are tough decisions,” he said.

READ MORE: NS passes Essential Services Act, forcing hundreds back to work

“Enough is enough. It’s over,” said Alex Furlong, director of the Canadian Labour Congress, who joined Cavanagh at the conference.

“We are not going to sit idly by and let the premier take things by a legislative hammer that we’ve fought for over successive years to gain for the members in this province.”

But Kevin Lacey, Atlantic director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, believes the McNeil government is trying to get the best deal for taxpayers. Lacey said if too much is given to unions, it will put pressure on the public and could lead to higher taxes.

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“I wouldn’t expect labour unions to be happy because finally we have a government in Nova Scotia that is willing to tell them no,” Lacey said. “For too long, we’ve had too much given to the unions at the expense of the average taxpayers and now it’s time to have fairness both to our government workers but also for the taxpayers who are paying the bill.”

Negotiations province-wide

The province’s labour issues span many areas – both public and private.

In November 2015, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) originally recommended accepting the government’s offer but later reversed its decision.

Cape Breton University and their facility members are also trying to work out a deal and avoid a possible strike.

WATCH: Nova Scotia parents, students rally outside schools in support of teachers. Global’s Natasha Pace reports.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia parents, students rally outside schools in support of teachers' Nova Scotia parents, students rally outside schools in support of teachers
Nova Scotia parents, students rally outside schools in support of teachers – Dec 5, 2016

NDP say labour unrest is disrespectful

Gary Burrill, leader of the N.S. NDP party, calls the labour situation in the province “a mess.”

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“We’re at a really unprecedented low point characterized by across-the-board disrespect for working people and, in particular, unionized members,” said Burrill. “Every labour negotiation that ever happens, the first thing that takes place is the employers comes and sits down at the table and says we can’t afford to meet your demands. That’s how all negotiations start, then the negotiations proceed from there.

“The difficulty with the McNeil government is they don’t come to those negotiations, they don’t have those conversations, they just come in and dictate their one line.”

Herald about to mark one year on the picket line

It’s not just public sector workers that the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour is concerned about. They are also calling on the government to put in place an industrial inquiry commission into the labour unrest between the Chronicle Herald and its unionized employees.

Monday will mark one year since 55 members of the Halifax Typographical Union hit the picket line. The Herald has said they face financial problems and earlier this month rejected the union’s latest offer.

WATCH: Unionized employees at the oldest, independently-owned newspaper in the country have walked off the job. Global’s Natasha Pace reports.

Click to play video: 'Halifax’s Chronicle Herald staff go on strike' Halifax’s Chronicle Herald staff go on strike
Halifax’s Chronicle Herald staff go on strike – Jan 23, 2016

Cavanagh says by calling an inquiry, the province could show Nova Scotians that they are doing something to end the strike and resolve the dispute. Striking workers agree with the call for an inquiry.

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“We never thought it would last this long,” said Stephen Forest, a member of the union.

Despite losing several prominent journalists so far during the strike, union members say they will continue to fight for a better contract.

READ MORE: Negotiations may resume between Chronicle Herald, striking workers

“It will go on as long as it has to go on really. I mean, we’re in a position where we have an employer that’s looking to take away bargained rights within the workplace, to try to push our union out and if this employer is allowed to do it, it will embolden other employers to do the same thing,” Forest added.

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