03/31/2014 06:45 EDT | Updated 05/31/2014 05:59 EDT

Capital Health nurses' back-to-work legislation introduced

The Nova Scotia government has introduced essential services legislation in the contract dispute between the Capital District Health Authority and the union representing its nurses.

The CBC's Jean Laroche said the provincial government planned to enact the controversial back-to-work legislation if the two sides could not come to an agreement by 7 p.m. on Monday.

The back-to-work legislation also applies to other health care unions including those who work in seniors homes, paramedics, 911 operators and those working in community services.

Meanwhile, the union representing the nurses said it has now given an official strike notice for just after midnight on Thursday.

Holly Fraughton, a spokeswoman for the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, said the formal walkout notice for the 2,400 nurses was served Monday.

"Like all Canadians, Nova Scotians deserve to know their health and safety won't be in jeopardy during a labour disruption," said Labour and Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan in a release.

"Government also values the critical work of employees who care for people who are sick, older, or have special needs. This legislation also protects the right to strike once an essential services agreement is in place." 

Mediated talks between the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union Local 97 and their employer, the Capital District Health Authority, resumed Monday morning as the strike deadline looms.

Members of the NSGEU met with the government-appointed mediator first. Officials with the Capital District Health Authority are in a different room in the same building.

Joan Jessome, the union president, said the union had changed its position but she did not provide details. She said it could be a very long day at the bargaining table, or a very short day.

"We're not going to bargain with ourselves. So hopefully, the employer and government will see this as a move towards getting a collective agreement. We're hopeful," she said earlier on Monday.

"If we're not at the table we can't reach a deal, so it's good that we're going to be here and if there's progress being made, we'll be here as long as it takes."

The key issue is a union demand for mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios. Capital Health is opposed, saying it needs more flexibility.

John Gillis, a spokesman with the Capital District Health Authority, said as the strike deadline approaches, the hospital is continuing to cancel surgeries and transfer patients to hospitals outside the city.

Gillis expects the number of acute care beds at the district's hospitals will fall from 634 down to 432 if there is a strike — a decrease of 37 per cent.

He said eight surgeries were postponed on Monday and 19 more would be postponed on Tuesday.