Government has proclaimed the Public Services Sustainability Act, Premier Stephen McNeil announced today, Aug. 22.
“We are doing what is in the best interest of all Nova Scotians,” said Premier McNeil. “This piece of legislation provides for fair wages while letting us invest in the services that benefit all Nova Scotians.”
“We’re investing in health care and mental health services, cutting class sizes and expanding our province’s pre-primary program, investing in infrastructure to grow the economy and creating jobs for young Nova Scotians,” he added.
The act was originally introduced and passed in December 2015 to ensure that third-party arbitrators could not make decisions about public sector contracts with unions that determine the province’s future.
Labour Relations Minister Mark Furey said the decision to proclaim the act came after recent negotiations with the NSGEU reached an impasse, triggering an arbitration board.
This followed two years of negotiations during which the government reached a tentative agreement with the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU).
The act applies to all public sector employers and employees -unionized and non-unionized, with some exemptions. Physician residents and judges are exempt from the legislation and the act, as proclaimed, does not apply to physicians. Bargaining units with settled collective agreements and non-union public sector employees that are already compliant with the legislative framework, are also exempt. For example: teachers and Crown Attorneys.
The act outlines the amount of new money employers can offer for wages to their employees is three per cent over four years: 0 per cent, 0 per cent, 1 per cent, 1.5 per cent, and 0.5 per cent on the final day of the agreement.
Under the act, all public sector employees will be eligible for the retirement allowance they have accumulated up to April 1, 2015.
“The government must safeguard the interests of taxpayers,” said Mr. Furey. “The act also ensures bargaining can continue for those groups without agreements – we encourage them to come to the table.”
Premier McNeil also announced the legislation would be referred to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal under the Constitutional Questions Act to obtain the court’s opinion on the now proclaimed law.
“We are doing what we believe is right and what is necessary for the taxpayers of this province,” said Premier McNeil.
Premier McNeil said this legislation is about more than just labour.
“The decision to proclaim this legislation clearly signals our belief that elected officials sitting in the legislature are the ones who get to create public policy,” said Premier McNeil. “We are elected and can be held accountable by our constituents–that cannot be said of a third-party arbitrator.”
The act, and new regulations, establish a new Public Services Sustainability Board responsible for dealing with issues arising from the interpretation and application of the legislation. Government has appointed the three board members: Margaret MacDonald as chair, Nelson Blackburn, as vice chair, and Doug Stewart as a member.