Thousands of health care administrative workers in Nova Scotia are considering a strike three years after their contracts expired.
The unions representing them say wages remain the main sticking point, but they are willing to return to the negotiating table. The president of the Nova Scotia General and Government Employees Union (NSGEU) says these staff members deserve more.
“The Prime Minister focused on health care,” says Sandra Mullen. “Certainly, nurses, doctors, all these contracts were signed with the promise of keeping these salaries where they need to be in Atlantic Canada.”
She says salaries for administrative staff have not kept pace with inflation, as some earn as little as $18 an hour and now take on second jobs to make ends meet.
The NSGEU represents nearly 3,800 of the more than 5,000 administrative workers in Nova Scotia’s hospitals and community care settings. The rest is covered by CUPE and Unifor.
“They keep this operation [health care] running. They schedule appointments, they enter information that doctors need, they do a multitude of things,” Mullen says.
The Health and Essential Community Services Act requires employers and unions to enter into an essential services agreement before a strike or lockout can occur.
“I will not allow Nova Scotians to be left without access to essential services,” said Premier Tim Houston. “In particular, I will not allow Nova Scotians to be deprived of access to health care because of a labor dispute. It will not arrive.”
In fashion now
Mullen says the unions are working with the employer (Nova Scotia Health and IWK) and the labor board on an essential services plan, which could be finalized by the end of the month.
Despite the move toward a strike, Mullen says he is open to resuming negotiations.
“We have identified a number of key elements that could help resolve this issue, because this contract – if they had accepted it, if they had accepted it – would have ended at the end of October 2023. We would then return to the table to continue negotiating,” says Mullen.
“We have seen the financial offers from the province for the years to come. Of course, with nurses, doctors, there is a lot of hidden money. It’s certainly not a very easy situation.
The premier says the province would also like to see talks resume.
“Look at our track record on negotiations,” Houston says. “I’m not interested in those kinds of tactics where we try to take the deal off the table and negotiate. I think our own record in just two years shows our commitment to the collective bargaining process. If there are obstacles to collective bargaining, it’s not us.”
In a press release, the province affirms that it values the work of all stakeholders in the health system, including administrative professionals.
“The province is committed to open, honest and meaningful collective bargaining with public sector unions, and we hope that employers and the Council of Unions can reach an agreement without any disruption to services,” reads the statement from Michelle, Executive Director of Communications Nova Scotia. Lucas.
© 2023 PKBNEWS, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.