04/25/2012 05:12 EDT | Updated 06/25/2012 05:12 EDT

Two sides in health care dispute reach tentative agreement, avert strike

HALIFAX - The union representing 3,700 hospital workers reached a tentative agreement with a Halifax health authority Wednesday, hours before members were scheduled to set up picket lines and further disrupt medical care.

The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union posted a notice on its website alerting members that a strike would not take place Thursday as planned.

No details of the agreement were released, but were to be presented to members of Local 42 late Wednesday after the deal was reached around 8 p.m.

Chris Power, president and CEO of Capital Health, said she was pleased a deal was reached though the threat of a strike had already affected thousands of medical procedures.

"It's been a long five days and we are just pleased that we've averted a strike," she said in an interview.

"So now we need to focus our attention on getting back to full speed ahead and re-booking all those patients who have missed their appointments."

Capital Health said 530 appointments for diagnostic imaging and almost 2,000 outpatient appointments had been postponed in the run-up to a strike.

Power said many appointments that took months to secure would have to be rescheduled.

"It's had a major impact on our patients and families," she said.

"Thousands of people everyday for the last few days have not received their treatment or have not been able to get to their appointments."

The union message said that voting would be held at Capital Health sites until Friday.

Joan Jessome, president of the union, was not available for comment.

The tentative deal indicates that wage increases will be subject to binding arbitration. The board of arbitration will have to come up increases over three years that range between 6.5 per cent and nine per cent.

The contract states that a final decision should be made by June 15.

The news came after several days of negotiations and talks that went well beyond the union's 4 p.m. deadline Wednesday.

Union members planned to set up picket lines Wednesday if no deal was reached the previous day, but the union postponed any work stoppage until 7 a.m. Thursday as they continued talking.

Power said she wouldn't ramp up services to normal levels and some beds would remain closed until the union approves the deal.

She expected ambulatory care to be back to normal by late Thursday, while surgeries will not be cancelled Monday unless she hears the deal was not passed.

Diagnostic imaging and lab services would operate as usual Thursday.

Members of the union work in over 250 different roles, including lab technicians, social workers, occupational therapists and some nurses.

The union had been asking for a wage increase of 5.1 per cent to match a raise given to some nurses last year.

The tentative deal came after the province appointed mediator Bruce Outhouse.