06/09/2013 10:58 EDT | Updated 08/09/2013 05:12 EDT

Nova Scotia paramedics reach tentative deal in contract dispute

HALIFAX - Unionized paramedics across Nova Scotia have reached a tentative deal with their employer days before a strike deadline.

The 800 ground and air paramedics are represented by Local 727 of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

Terry Chapman, the union's business manager, said the agreement was struck Saturday evening with Emergency Medical Care Inc.

He said the deal offers the workers a defined benefit pension plan, which had become a major sticking point during negotiations.

"It puts them in line now as far as retirement ability with most of the other health-care workers in the province," Chapman said Sunday.

"We're pretty happy that we were able to achieve it. It's up to the members to accept or deny it."

Chapman said the union's membership will vote on the tentative agreement within 15 days. The union is recommending acceptance of the deal.

"We hope to travel the province, meeting with the employees and sharing the nuances of the offer," he said.

Stacey Brown, a spokeswoman for Emergency Medical Care, was unavailable for an interview. She said in an email that the employer was hopeful the deal would be approved.

The union's strike deadline had been pushed from Sunday to Tuesday while a provincially appointed mediator worked to find a solution to the contract dispute.

Paramedics in Nova Scotia aren't covered by essential services legislation that require some staff to remain on duty.

Last week, the operations director at Emergency Medical Care said non-union paramedics would be the only workers available in the event of a strike. Jeff Fraser said management paramedics could initially meet about 28 per cent of regular service, but it would vary from day-to-day and decrease over time.

Chapman said the paramedics don't want to put any members of the public in harm's way. But he said the workers deserve to push for a better contact.

"I believe it's important that people with an issue have the ability and right and will to stick behind that, and that's what these people have done," he said.