HALIFAX -- A week of passionate protest from unionized health workers came to an inevitable conclusion Friday as Nova Scotia's Liberal majority government pushed through legislation that cuts the number of bargaining units and district authorities in the health-care system.

The legislation passed by a vote of 42-5 with the Progressive Conservatives supporting the Liberal government's bill. The NDP voted against it.

Premier Stephen McNeil's government introduced the Health Authorities Act on Monday and immediately fast-tracked it by using extended day and night sittings to get it through the legislative process.

Along the way, hundreds of union members stood outside the legislature chanting, banging drums and blowing horns in opposition to a bill they say violates their labour rights and threatens hard won benefits.

McNeil said workers wages and benefits would be maintained while the number of bargaining units is trimmed from 50 to four.

He defended the government's haste, saying both sides would need time to prepare ahead of the bill's deadline to cut the number of health authorities from 10 to two.

"We need all of this to be dealt with before April 1 and that's way this bill was essentially moved through the way it has been," said McNeil.

Despite the highly charged week, the government wasn't swayed by the high-volume protests outside the legislature.

"Everyone has the right to protest," McNeil said. "It's not the first time it's happened at this house and I'm sure it's not the last."

Soon after making those comments to reporters, McNeil and his caucus got a taste of the anger among some union members. As the Liberals made their way to a government building across the street, dozens of health workers and union activists were held back by police as they yelled obscenities and chanted "Shame."

Rick Clarke of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour said the legislation will affect the morale of frontline health workers and labour relations with the government for the foreseeable future, predicting that issues will arise when the government asks for co-operation from unionized labour.

"Well they can go pound it," said Clarke. "If they want us involved in something then they are going to have to fight to get it."

But the bill has also split organized labour.

A united front was fractured Thursday when three unions issued a joint release that restated their support for a bargaining association. It did not include the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, which favours run-off votes among members to determine which union they want to join.

This isn't the first time the government has butted heads with labour since it came to power nearly a year ago.

It was named in a court challenge last month that aims to overturn essential services legislation that ended a strike by 2,400 nurses in Halifax in April.

Clarke said it's inevitable further legal action will be launched over the latest law.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said although his party is concerned the bill doesn't leave the unions with the "democratic" option of having run-off votes, it favours downsizing health administration while putting more money into frontline health care.

He said his party would now work to hold the government accountable for a plan that's still scant on details.

Interim NDP Leader Maureen MacDonald called the labour aspects of the bill a "fiasco."

"If you are going to make change in the health-care system you need to have everybody working together. Pulling in the same direction is a lot better than having lots of conflict."

Under the new law, workers who perform similar jobs would be represented by the same union, which would be determined by a mediator. If those mediated negotiations fail, an arbitrator would decide union representation.

With the passage of the law the mediation process will have 45 days to reach agreements. If the process ends up in arbitration, there will be an additional 45 days added to the process.

Under the law, there is a freeze on negotiations, as well as a prohibition on strikes and lockouts, until April 1.