02/28/2014 05:28 EST | Updated 04/30/2014 05:59 EDT

Northwood workers strike, fight back to work proposal

More than 400 home support workers in Halifax walked off the job Friday morning in their fight for more pay.

Soon after 8 a.m. the protesting Northwood Homecare Ltd. workers loaded onto buses headed to the Nova Scotia legislature. 

That’s where new legislation is being introduced by the Stephen McNeil government that will force the union to work out a deal with the employer to determine which are essential staff. Only non-essential workers will be allowed to hit the picket line.

Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union leader Joan Jessome calls it "draconian" and said there are hundreds of union members ready to speak at the law amendments committee, which could tie up the legislation for days.

She said workers could be on strike for days before legislation forcing them back to work is finally passed.

When the protesters first arrived there were enough workers to almost encircle the entire block of Province House.

Jessome said they’ll picket as long as provincial politicians remain inside. 

Wage hike demanded

The home-care workers supply services provided by Northwood Homecare, which means about 1,800 people living at home will no longer receive their help.

"This isn't about the frail and the elderly," Jessome told The Canadian Press. "This is about busting the collective bargaining process for public-sector workers."

The striking workers say they want to receive the same pay that their colleagues in hospitals receive.

The premier said other care workers have agreed to what he calls the government's "very generous" offer and he's calling on the union to follow suit.

"We're going back to the table and that offer will not be on the table is my message. It will not be the same offer. It will be less than what is there," said McNeil.

Northwood has been preparing to deal with the walk-out, asking clients to make other arrangements and looking to bring in non-unionized staff to help with the most frail or those without family.

But clients are worried. Gail Kernick is 64 years old and gets daily help from a Northwood home support worker.

“I’m praying things are going to work out for them and things are going to go right,” she said.

More than 700 Victoria Order of Nurses home care workers in rural parts of the province are also set to strike next week