K'JIPUKTUK, HALIFAX - Union activists are occupying Labour Minister Kelly Regan's constituency office in Bedford to protest the passage of Bill 37 early this morning.
"Bill 37 takes away the right to strike from 40,000 health care and community workers across Nova Scotia," Kyle Buott, president of the Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council, tells the Halifax Media Co-op.
"The legislation is draconian. It sends us backwards on labour relations and was done in the most anti-democratic fashion," says Buott.
The occupants are holding out for Regan to talk to the activists.
"Kelly Regan is the Labour Minister. She is supposed to defend the rights of working people, not to take them away," says Buott.
Margaret Anne McHugh is the Vice President of the Halifax-Dartmouth Labour Council.
McHugh does not believe Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil's claims that Bill 37 is there to ensure the public's continued access to essential services during a strike.
"All unions provide emergency services when we go out, we want to make sure that no one loses their live or limb over a withdrawal of service," says McHugh.
"But the new legislation leaves it to a large extent up to the employer to determine what they need and how many union members are required to provide these essential services."
And what the government considered essential services when it passed similar legislation affecting home support workers barely a month ago does not bode well, says McHugh.
"The government basically said that providing personal care, washing people's hair, doing some light housekeeping, preparing some meals are essential services,"
"And if getting your hair done is essential, than anything you do as a public sector worker becomes essential," says McHugh.
"[The right to strike] is our only way of having any power at all," McHugh argues. "Also, it's the threat of a strike, being able to threaten that you will withdraw labour, it makes [the employer] pay attention."
Bargaining conditions have deteriorated since the Liberals took power, McHugh believes.
"What we have seen, and not just with the nurses but anywhere in the public sector, is that [the employer] just sort of sat back and didn't negotiate. Employers just wait for the government to step in," says McHugh.
Yesterday union activists occupied Health Minister Leo Glavine's constituency office.
"The passage of Bill 37 was not the end, it was just the beginning," says Buott.
"It's going to be a long fight, there is no doubt that this legislation will end up at the Supreme Court. But we anticiapte that to take several years," says Buott.
"Meanwhile we also want to keep the political pressure on the ministers and MLAs who voted in favour of this legislation."
"Stay tuned to see what happens next week," says Buott.
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