N.S. health-care unions return to negotiating table

The unions representing some health care workers in Nova Scotia were back at the negotiating table Monday, hoping to hammer out a new deal with their employers.

CUPE, Unifor, and the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU), make up the council of healthcare unions on one side, while the province, the IWK Health Centre, and Nova Scotia Health are on the other.

For workers, wages are the number one priority, the unions have asked for annual raises of three per cent for the next four years.

"This group dealt with zeros over the years, they fell behind their counterparts in other provinces such as P.E.I. and Newfoundland," says NSGEU President Jason MacLean.

However, officials with Nova Scotia Health say wages are already competitive with their counterparts across Atlantic Canada.

"We have regular processes where the jurisdictional data from other province is reviewed ... certainly feel that we are comparable and competitive with the Atlantic market," says Joanne Stone of Nova Scotia Health.

The unions represent 7,500 health care workers including lab techs, social workers and physiotherapists among others.

Health minister Zach Churchill says government is looking for a fair deal for everyone.

"Doing our best from our standpoint to reach a resolution that is within the financial envelope that we have to pay for these collective agreements," says Churchill.

Opposition leaders say the health-care workers are not being treated fairly during these negotiations.

"The reality  is that these are healthcare heroes, they did their part, went to work every day to help keep the rest of us safe and the government owes them a level of respect," says PC Leader Tim Houston.

The NDP's Gary Burrill agrees.

"I think the government should be looking for ways to uplift them and to appreciate them and acknowledge them, that's the very opposite of what the government is doing, nickel-and-diming them and diminishing them and forcing them into a strike vote," Burrill said.

MacLean says negotiations are going well, but they still don't have a proposal they're willing to bring back to the members.

The unions are still proceeding with a strike vote despite talks being back on. MacLean says negotiations have broken down before, and if that happens again, they want to be ready for the picket line.