About 300 public sector workers rallied outside the Nova Scotia legislature Wednesday to protest what one union has described as repressive legislation aimed at imposing a wage settlement on 75,000 provincial employees.
If it becomes law, the Public Services Sustainability Act would impose a two-year wage freeze, followed by a three per cent raise over the next two years.
“We've seen past times where arbitrators have ignored the pattern and have put the government of the day in very tough financial position,” said Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil.
Bill 148 would also impose restrictions on arbitrated settlements, which the government says is necessary to keep its expenses in line with its fiscal targets.
“I hope they understand why we couldn't afford to go to arbitration, it really is a question of our ability to pay,” said McNeil.
The 21,000-member Nova Scotia Government Employees Union says the bill effectively kills the collective bargaining process.
“There's not an expectation here that there's a tonne of money to go around, but you still have to be able to sit down, work out the problems,” said Lana Payne, Unifor Atlantic director.
Finance Minister Randy Delorey has said tough measures are needed to deal with the province's ‘vulnerable’ finances, which are being dragged down by declining economic growth and a rising deficit.
The head of the Nova Scotia Highway Workers’ Union Steve Joy says they’ve been negotiating for a year.
He says this bill won't stop them from considering arbitration.
“Hoping like I said earlier the process through conciliation will be successful, and if not that is where we go is to arbitration,” said Joy.
The bill was the subject of four hours of public hearings Tuesday before the legislature's law amendments committee, and more hearings were held Wednesday.
The committee heard from about 50 people, with not everyone opposing the bill.
“Obviously this is a tough route, but this is necessary legislation given the fact the province has no money, the cupboards are bare, and if we give money we cannot afford that means higher taxes on Nova Scotians who are already taxed out,” said Kevin Lacey, Atlantic director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
The next step for Bill 148 is committee of the whole.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Jacqueline Foster and The Canadian Press.