By John Hanrahan
In spite of recent Supreme Court decisions stating that the right to strike and bargain collectively are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Nova Scotia Liberal government of Premier Stephen McNeil is in the process of passing legislation that strips these rights from virtually every government worker in Nova Scotia.
Bill 148 places a two-year legislated wage freeze on teachers, nurses, home care workers, janitors, trades people, and just about any other kind of worker you can think of. The Bill removes the right to strike from these workers and bans salary arbitration as well.
After a decade of being a non-factor in Nova Scotia politics and consistently running a distant third behind the Tories and NDP, the McNeil Liberals vaulted to a majority government in 2013 largely due to the popularity of Justin Trudeau and the Federal Liberal brand. What followed almost immediately is the most consistent and aggressive legislative attack on the rights of workers that Nova Scotia has ever seen.
In a little over two years in power, the Liberals have passed essential services legislation, legislation that removes bargaining rights in the post secondary education sector, attempted legislation to force health care workers into a union of the government’s choosing, and now finally, legislation that removes the right to strike and bargain collectively from all public servants.
And by the way, during this time, member of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly have cut their own work week to four days (with Mondays off) and given themselves more generous pension benefits.
The Stephen McNeil Liberals need to realize two things. Firstly, there can be no real democracy when there is no respect for the Constitution or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on the part of the government, and secondly, public sector employees are the very people who make Nova Scotia work. They are not the province’s enemy.
It is irresponsible for the Nova Scotia Government to attempt to score political points by perpetuating the false and divisive mantra that public servants are the province’s main problem. We are not the problem. We are the people who educate children, heal the sick, build and maintain roads and infrastructure, care for the elderly, and train university graduates and skilled tradespersons who will drive our prosperity in the future.
It is ironic and difficult for us to watch this Liberal Premier win an election on the popularity of Justin Trudeau and then institute the policies of Stephen Harper. Canadians and Nova Scotians realize from the failures of the Harper Government that a society cannot cut its way to prosperity, that attacks on the rights of workers will not fix the economy or stop recessions, and that the politics of division should be soundly rejected.
The Confederation of Canadian Unions unreservedly supports the right to strike and the right to bargain collectively. We recognize that public servants are vital to the operation of our society and are a huge benefit to the economy at large. We stand with the workers of Nova Scotia and support the Province’s union movement in its resistance against Bill 148 through collective action.