On the same day that the Nova Scotia government announced its
projected deficit had ballooned to $241 million, it also introduced
Bill 148, the Public Services Sustainability (2015) Act
The stated purposes of the Act are to create a
framework for public sector employee compensation plans by placing
fiscal limits on increases to compensation, to authorize a portion
of cost savings identified through collective bargaining, and to
fund increases in compensation – all while encouraging
meaningful collective bargaining processes.
In addition, the Act establishes a collective
bargaining pattern for four-year public sector deals which impose
wage increases at the following rates:
Year 1: 0%;
Year 2: 0%;
Year 3: 1%; and
Year 4: 2%.
This pattern mirrors the one that the Province had been hoping
to set through tentative deals established with Nova Scotia's
teachers and the Province's largest union, the NSGEU.
Unfortunately, Nova Scotia's 10,000 teachers rejected the
tentative deal and the NSGEU refused to present it to their 7,600
civil service members.
Naturally, there is talk of constitutional challenges, but s. 28
of the Act says that neither an arbitrator nor the Nova Scotia
Labour Board has jurisdiction to determine Bill 148's
constitutional validity. Notably, the Act addresses
requirements found in the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in
Meredith v. Canada, 2015 SCC 2, which ruled that the
federal government's right to limit wage increases in the 2009
Expenditure Restraint Act passed constitutional muster and
did not offend the s. 2(d) Charter right to associate. The
wage increases in the Act are consistent with the
increases the Nova Scotia government was able to negotiate with
both teachers and the civil service and may, therefore, be
reflective of "an outcome consistent with actual bargaining
Nonetheless, we know that there are ongoing court challenges to
restraint legislation, including the federal government's 2011
Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act and the Ontario
government's Bill 115 – Putting Students First
Act (even though it was repealed in 2013).
Assuming the majority Liberal government actually passes the
Act, its enactment will be delayed, giving all 75,000
public sector employees the opportunity to negotiate. However, any
such negotiations will need to be within the boundaries established
through the legislated framework. Undoubtedly, collective
bargaining – in some manner or another – will continue
in Nova Scotia, but court challenges may yet be commenced. Stay
tuned! Life is interesting when the cupboard is bare.
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