Nova Scotia introduces first contract law for unions, employers

Legislation would allow parties to apply for settlement, imposed contract
||Last Updated: 11/21/2011

Nova Scotia’s NDP government has introduced legislation to amend the province’s Trade Union Act to allow an arbitrator or the provincial labour board to settle first collective agreements.

Under the proposed law, if an employer and a newly certified union reach a bargaining impasse, negotiations will go to conciliation. If an agreement still can’t be reached, either side can apply to the Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board for a settlement, as long as the conciliator has given notice they couldn’t reach an agreement. There must also have been 90 to 120 days since his or her appointment.

Neither party would have to prove bad-faith bargaining led to the impasse.

After the parties apply for a settlement, they have the opportunity to agree on an arbitrator who will have 60 days to settle outstanding issues. If the two sides continue to disagree on an arbitrator, the board will attempt to get negotiations restarted. If that doesn’t lead to a settlement, the board can impose a one-year contract.

Labour Minister Marilyn More says the legislation is similar to the law in Manitoba and five other provinces, but Nova Scotia’s law will require the conciliator to educate the parties on collective bargaining within 14 days of the union being certified.

“In the end, this means workers keep getting paid and employers enjoy continued productivity,” More said at a press conference.

The government’s labour-management review committee couldn’t reach consensus on the issue, so More asked them to further analyze the legislation. However, the government decided to go move forward without a recommendation from the committee, which includes union representatives and officials from unionized employers.

Businesses in the province don’t necessarily see the relevance of the legislation.

Leanne Hachey, Atlantic vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), told the Chronicle Herald the process leading up to the legislation was "bogus." She criticized More and Premier Darrell Dexter’s decision to proceed with the announcement without input from the labour-management committee.

"It turns out that when they don’t happen to like what’s coming from half of the group, they just ignore it,” Hachey told the paper, “so I would say extreme disappointment, not only in the decision, but in how they got there."

Danny Cavanagh, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Nova Scotia, says that this law brings the province in line with other parts of the country.

“The suggestion by opposition parties and groups like the CFIB that this is some kind of ‘job killer’ is quickly proven false by looking at what has happened in those other jurisdictions,” Cavanagh says. “I would also remind those who say we don’t have a problem with first contracts in this province that our union has had instances where it took us two and three years to achieve a first collective agreement.”

The legislation won’t apply to new unions in the construction industry, but the government could amend the law to include those companies in the future.

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