Eight unions still battling anti-worker legislation (Bill 148) imposed by former Premier Stephen McNeil

September 6, 2023

Since Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government proclaimed Bill 148 – the Public Services Sustainability Act, the unions impacted by the Bill have been working diligently to have this dangerous piece of anti-worker legislation repealed as a breach of Section 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The unions:

Canadian Union of Public Employees, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 1867, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union, Nova Scotia Teachers Union, Service Employees’ International Union Local 2, Unifor, and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 727.

The unions knew that pursuing legal action would be a slow process, and that continues to be true. There was some reason for optimism in 2021 when Tim Houston and the Progressive Conservatives (PCs) formed government. In a survey sent to NSGEU, the PCs committed to repealing Bill 148 if elected.

Once in government Finance Minister Allan McMaster did a U-turn on this commitment and said the legislation is redundant and does not need to be repealed. This forced the unions to continue the court process. 

Last week the Court made two important decisions related to the unions’ case. It decided that the case can continue as an application and did not need to be converted into an action. This prevented any further delays needed to convert the case into an action.

Secondly, the Court set dates for the hearing and the various procedural steps that must take place.

The hearing is scheduled for June 2, 3, 4, and 5 2025. It also includes a number of deadlines over the next 22 months for disclosures, affidavits, expert reports, rebuttal reports and briefs. This is without question a long process.

However, it is a process and fight worth having. Bill 148 cannot be allowed to create a precedent for future governments to use as leverage against working people.

As you will recall Bill 148 did three things that directly interfered with the right to full, free, collective bargaining:

1. It imposed a non-negotiated wage pattern on the entire public sector (0%, 0%, 1.0%, 1.5% & an additional 0.5% on the last day of the agreement);

2. It removed long-standing articles from the Civil Service master agreement (ending the retirement allowance/public service award as of April 1, 2015);

3. Prohibiting an arbitrator from awarding anything above the above-noted wage pattern.

Even before government proclaimed the Bill into force, the threat of legislation hobbled the unions’ bargaining power and prevented them from being able to freely conclude the collective bargaining process, because it took away the leverage of wages and monetary items like the service award off the table completely. After a significant amount of time with very little progress in bargaining at any major tables, the NSGEU announced in late summer 2017 that it would apply to the Labour Board to appoint an Interest Arbitration Board to settle the Civil Service Master Agreement, as is a right under the legislation that applied. Government proclaimed the legislation to prevent the interest arbitrator from awarding any monetary increases that were higher than was set out in the legislation.

The unions’ argument is that Bill 148 breaches Section 2(d) of the Charter, which guarantees Canadians Freedom of Association and protects the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike.

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