10/09/2014 02:46 EDT | Updated 12/09/2014 05:59 EST

Nova Scotia appoints mediator in reorganization of health authorities

HALIFAX - A mediator from British Columbia will take on the task of helping to cut down the number of labour bargaining units in Nova Scotia's health-care system.

James Dorsey worked on health care restructuring in British Columbia, which resulted in the bargaining association model that is used by unions in that province.

His appointment on Thursday by the government was made under legislation that will reduce the number of district health authorities from 10 to two, and see 50 bargaining units reduced to four.

Dorsey must meet with the sides before Oct. 24 and the province said that if any issues aren't settled in mediation by Nov. 17, Dorsey will then serve as the arbitrator who will solve them.

With 37-years of experience in mediation and arbitration, Dorsey was recommended to the government by the unions and the employers in the health-care system. The province said it will pay his expenses and fees, which are $275 an hour.

Three unions, Unifor, the Nova Scotia Nurses Union and the Canadian Union of Public Employees have been pushing the idea of a bargaining association, which would negotiate collective agreements for different unions without workers changing the unions they belong to.

The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union favours run-off votes to determine union membership.

Premier Stephen McNeil said the unions shouldn't read too much into the government appointing Dorsey, adding that the legislation clearly sets out what the government expects from the process.

"We very clearly have laid out that we want four bargaining units, that all unions survive and that we want clarity about who is speaking for whom at the bargaining table," said McNeil.

The government has said employee wages and benefits will be protected through the mediation process.

Under the law passed last week, workers who perform similar jobs will be represented by the same union.

There is also a freeze on negotiations, as well as a prohibition on strikes and lockouts, until April 1, when the merger of health authorities takes effect.