“Why would any employer bargain in good faith with workers if it knows it can rely on a third party to designate an unrealistic number of workers as essential? This is a one-sided process and it completely undercuts the rights of workers to free collective bargaining.” — Ken Georgetti, CLC President.
Halifax (03 April 2014) — Nurses put patient safety first. This is not just a slogan, it's a core belief for members of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU/NUPGE) who have been trying to negotiate a new collective agreement that includes nurse-to-patient ratios.
Patient safety worth striking for
Patient safety is why, after seven months of negotiations, workers continue to push for nurse-to-patient ratios as a main platform in their bargaining. It is why, after the employer has walked away from discussions on this important issue, nurses have refused to back down, and went on strike in order to improve patient safety.
On Monday, April 1, in response to the approaching strike deadline, the provincial government introduced essential services legislation that would weaken the right to strike of thousands of health care workers across the province. The legislation was met with anger and frustration, not only by NSGEU/NUPGE members, but by the labour movement across the province and the country.
NSGEU/NUPGE nurses employed by Capital Health were in a legal strike position after midnight on April 3. Hundreds of supporters, health care workers and community partners joined the striking workers to protest the overreaching and unfair legislation, and to urge the employer to negotiate a fair deal that includes addressing patient safety concerns. The union and management have agreed upon an emergency services plan.
Essential services legislation undercuts the rights of workers to free collective bargaining, CLC President Ken Georgetti tells nurses
Ken Georgetti, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, joined the strikers in Halfax, bringing support from the labour movement across Canada. Watch more speeches online.
"This legislation tilts the balance in negotiations in favour of the employers,” Georgetti said. “Why would any employer bargain in good faith with workers if it knows it can rely on a third party to designate an unrealistic number of workers as essential? This is a one-sided process and it completely undercuts the rights of workers to free collective bargaining.”
James Clancy, National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) echoed his frustration saying, "Instead of forcing Capital Health back to the negotiating table to bargain in good faith, the government is abusing this situation by introducing legislation designed to restrict the bargaining rights of thousands of workers, the majority of whom are not even a part of this dispute. This legislation has made the situation much worse. Capital Health can now rely on the government to pass legislation that simply strengthens its inflexible position at the bargaining table. Workers have the right to exercise their collective bargaining rights, including the right to strike, not be undermined by governments when employers refuse to negotiate fairly."
Georgetti maintains that collective bargaining is the only system that allows workers and employers to sort out their differences and reach a mutual agreement. He argues, “Not allowing workers to bargain will have negative consequences on labour relations in the health care field for years to come."
Strike may be short-lived but concern for patient safety remains
Despite having a majority in the Legislature, the government has not been able to push its legislation through so quickly. The government is required to hear from constituents on the Essential Health and Community Services Act prior to it becoming law. A steady stream of health care workers and members of the public opposed to the legislation have been providing testimonials.
It is expected that the legislation will be passed on Friday.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE