POLITICS

Nova Scotia legislature to reconvene to deal with paramedic labour dispute

07/04/2013 08:12 EDT | Updated 09/03/2013 05:12 EDT
HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's labour minister isn't saying what legislative steps the government will take in a labour dispute involving the province's 800 paramedics when it recalls the legislature Friday, but he assured the public that the government will not allow safety to be put at risk with a strike.

Frank Corbett said Thursday the government wanted to give Local 727 of the International Union of Operating Engineers and their employer one last chance to meet with a conciliator before the house of assembly resumes.

He said if the paramedics walk off the job Saturday, the safety of Nova Scotians would be affected and the government can't allow that.

"It will be a bill that protects the health and safety of the people of Nova Scotia so they will not be harmed in any way," Corbett said following a cabinet meeting, refusing to elaborate on the details of the legislation.

The paramedics will be in a legal strike position at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

Union spokesman Terry Chapman said later Thursday that the conciliator did contact the union but was told its position was firm.

"The mandate of the membership stands and any less than that will not do," said Chapman.

He also said there were no talks planned with the employer, Emergency Medical Care Inc., something a company spokeswoman also confirmed in an email.

Chapman said he didn't know the exact form any potential legislation would take, but added paramedics would stay on the job if ordered to.

"Of course we won't break the law and go on an illegal strike," he said.

Union members have repeatedly rejected offers from Emergency Medical Care, recently voting 73 per cent against a deal that would have given them a defined benefit pension plan — one of their key demands.

At information pickets following the rejection of the contract, union members said they're also seeking better wages.

Some said they're looking for a 15 per cent pay hike over three years rather than the 11.1 per cent over almost five years that was offered in the tentative agreement.

The company said primary care paramedics with five or more years of service earn $50,396 a year, while critical care paramedics with the same amount of service make $67,369.

Dave Matheson, an advanced care paramedic, said members are worried about what may happen when the legislature reconvenes. He said if they're forced back to work, it would eliminate the need for their employer to negotiate.

"We're caught in a tricky spot," said Matheson, a paramedic of 17 years. "We're pretty nervous about the legislation. It's definitely very stressful."

Matheson said some paramedics plan to congregate outside the house Friday morning.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie accused the government of meddling in negotiations, adding he expects the two sides to be pushed into arbitration by the province.

"We know the NDP have been playing both sides in this and they've made nobody happy," Baillie said. "They say they're in favour of fair and open collective bargaining, but then they make backroom deals that screw it up.

"That's why we're at this sorry place today."