06/27/2013 11:31 EDT | Updated 08/27/2013 05:12 EDT

New talks planned in Nova Scotia paramedics dispute, minister hopeful for deal

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's labour minister won't say whether the government would legislate the province's 800 paramedics back to work in the event of a strike next week.

Frank Corbett said he's hopeful both parties will sort out their issues when they resume negotiations Friday with a conciliator.

"I would hope that by the conciliator bringing them back ... that they would have that clear vision," Corbett said Thursday. "We want the parties to resolve this on their own."

The paramedics are employees of Emergency Medical Care Inc. and represented by Local 727 of the International Union of Operating Engineers. They won't be able to go on strike or be in a legal lockout position until July 5.

Corbett said speculating on back-to-work legislation "is just presumptive." However, he added that legislation would not take long to write, if necessary.

Last week, union members voted 73 per cent against a deal that would have given paramedics a defined benefits pension plan — one of their key demands.

At information pickets this week, 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.

Dave Matheson, a part-time advanced care paramedic, said the members have given the union leadership a mandate to come back with nothing less than that wage increase as they try to reach parity with their counterparts in other provinces.

"We've been trying to play catch-up for 17 years," he said.

Matheson said a paramedic's average hourly wage is about $24 an hour in Nova Scotia, compared to about $35 for paramedics in other cities in Ontario.

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.

Paramedics in P.E.I. are embroiled in their own contract dispute with their employer and have also filed for conciliation.