N.S. resumes efforts to force health labour bill through

CBC News Online, Monday 18 June 2001, 14:54:09

HALIFAX—The Nova Scotia government has told the opposition that its efforts to delay passage of a controversial health labour bill will mean less time available for public input.

Legislators resumed debate on Bill 68 shortly after midnight Monday morning, as the government continues to try to push through the legislation.

They are in a marathon debate over the bill that would take away the right to strike from thousands of nurses and other health care workers in the province. It would also give the cabinet the power to impose contract settlements.

Any reduction in health care services will bring a risk to life and limb to Nova Scotians, said Justice Minister Michael Baker. That is not acceptable.

The MLAs returned following two days off with more energy than when they left at the end of Friday's 23-hour session.

But while they were resting, health care workers in the province began a work-to-rule campaign to protest against the bill. Union leaders told their members not to work overtime or perform duties not in their job descriptions. It also want them to be sure to take their regularly scheduled breaks.

The Conservative government's majority ensures Bill 68 will almost certainly pass and the round-the-clock sittings are intended to make that happen as quickly as possible.

But the opposition is working to slow down the process. They are tabling petition after petition against the bill.

But Justice Minister Baker said those tactics will only mean the government will reduce the time allotted to the Law Amendments Committee.

The bill will go to that committee after second reading. The committee allows any Nova Scotian to speak on a bill under debate.

That's exactly what they've told us, to sit down and shut up, said New Democrat MLA Jerry Pye.

The government wants to have the bill passed by June 27 to head off the first of several possible strikes.

But cutting off the public's opportunity to speak on the issue will make more than opposition MLAs angry.

All hell will break loose here in the province of Nova Scotia because it's not fair, said nurse Martha Brown.

Union rejects tentative deal

Meanwhile, that first group of health care workers—X-ray and lab technicians, physiotherapists and others in the Halifax area—rejected a tentative agreement with the Capital District Health Authority Saturday night.

The 2,900 members of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union have now rejected two contract offers. They say they'll go on strike on June 27.

Union president Joan Jessome said the vote reflects members' anger toward Premier John Hamm's Conservative government.

A coalition of unions plans to hold a demonstration at the provincial legislature Tuesday night. Extra security has been posted inside and outside Province House.