May 17, 2017 12:30 pm
Updated: May 17, 2017 11:28 pm

NSGEU to ask for binding arbitration in negotiations with Nova Scotia

The NSGEU's negotiating committee says it's filing for arbitration after determining bargaining had reached an impasse.

File/Global News

The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) is filing for arbitration after talks with the province reached an impasse.

In a news release Wednesday, union president Jason MacLean said the union went to the table with a conciliation officer twice last month but added that “bargaining was moving backwards.”

“It’s way overdue if you ask me,” MacLean said in a Wednesday interview.

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“What our members feel is they’ve been going since October 2015 and not able to get anywhere and they see nobody else is able to get anywhere in terms of bargaining … what they’re saying is, ‘we’re fed up, let’s move on.'”

READ MORE: NSGEU says negotiations with province at standstill, files for conciliation

On Tuesday, union members with the civil service voted 97 per cent in favour of allowing the union to file for arbitration should an impasse be declared, according to the release.

The union is asking for binding arbitration, which sees opposing parties present their demands to an arbitrator or arbitration board which renders a binding decision that sets out the terms of the new collective agreement.

In December 2016, thousands of public sector workers voted on a contract offer from the government. Ninety-four per cent of voters rejected that tentative agreement.

A month later, the union filed for conciliation after efforts to negotiate for a “fair” civil service collective agreement came to a standstill, MacLean said in a release.

READ MORE: No deal reached between NSGEU, NS government, more talks requested

The provincial government’s final offer to the union was a four-year deal with a wage package that would provide zero per cent increase in the first two years, one per cent in the third, 1.5 per cent in the fourth and 0.5 per cent on the last day of the contract.

The deal would also axe the Public Service Award, which defers wages over time and is paid out in full upon retirement.  The union said the benefit was negotiated in the 1980s as a way to recruit and retain civil service employees.

Civil service union members don’t have the right to strike but they are supposed to have the right to an arbitrator.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil has said his government won’t allow arbitration as a way to maintain fiscal targets. He has said that if any union pushes for arbitration, he would proclaim Bill 148, which would impose a wage package on the union.

Asked Wednesday if he will proclaim the bill, McNeil said the government will “look at our options.”

“We have work to do, we’ll continue to do that … we’re a long ways away from appointing an arbitrator,” McNeil said.

He went on to say there are various forms of arbitration, binding is one, but there is then the process of appointing an arbitrator that both sides would agree on.

MacLean said the union is not worried about the bill.

“Bill 148, it would be a huge waste of taxpayers money,” MacLean said.

He said the union would go forward with a charter challenge if the premier is elected in the May 30 election and then proclaims Bill 148.

“We believe it (the bill) is an infringement on the rights, the freedom of association and the rights of a person to be a member of a union and to free and collectively bargain,” he said.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia civil servants reject contract offer

The union represents more than 7,300 members in the civil service in Nova Scotia.

With files from Marieke Walsh, Global News

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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