09/16/2014 12:11 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:53 EDT

Unions launch court challenge against Nova Scotia law that ended nurses strike

HALIFAX - A group of Nova Scotia unions have launched a legal challenge of an essential services law that ended a strike by 2,400 nurses in Halifax in April, arguing that it violates their charter rights.

The statement of claim filed Friday in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court alleges the law breaches the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international law by interfering with the right to strike by health and community services employees.

Specifically, the unions argue that the law violates the charter sections affording freedom of expression and association as well as equality rights.

Under the Essential Health and Community Service Act, unions and employers throughout the health care sector are required to have an essential services agreement in place before a strike or lockout and would require an independent third party to decide if such a deal can't be reached.

The law applies to as many as 40,000 workers ranging from paramedics to people who work in youth and seniors homes.

"While the immediate target of Bill 37 was the registered nurses represented by the (Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union), the legislation substantially interfered with the collective bargaining rights of all unionized employees providing health or community services in Nova Scotia," says the statement of claim.

The document also says Bill 37 interferes with the right of unions to bargain collectively on behalf of their members, is overly broad and discriminatory against women.

"A substantial majority of the employees whose collective bargaining rights have been interfered with by Bill 37 are women," it alleges. "Bill 37 has a discriminatory, adverse impact on employees on the basis of sex."

The allegations have not been proven in court.

The province's Labour Department declined comment, saying it would be inappropriate to do so as the matter was before the courts.

The statement of claim seeks to have the courts declare a breach of the charter and overturn the law.

The law was passed following an all-night debate in the legislature on April 4 to end a brief strike by nurses. At the time, Premier Stephen McNeil said the law did not prohibit the right to strike and would bring stability to the health care system.

The Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Nova Scotia Nurses Union and Unifor are all part of the court action.