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Striking Home Support Workers surround Province House

Essential services legislation curtails workers' bargaining power

by Robert Devet

Hundreds of striking Home Support Workers surround the Nova Scotia Legislature.  They were there to protest essential services legislation that NSGEU President Joan Jessome calls draconian.   Photo Robert Devet
Hundreds of striking Home Support Workers surround the Nova Scotia Legislature. They were there to protest essential services legislation that NSGEU President Joan Jessome calls draconian. Photo Robert Devet
The 440 striking Northwood workers will be forced back to work early next week. An additional 1200 workers province-wide who would have been in a legal strike position in March are also affected. Photo Robert Devet
The 440 striking Northwood workers will be forced back to work early next week. An additional 1200 workers province-wide who would have been in a legal strike position in March are also affected. Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Five hundred angry and very vocal Northwood Home Support Workers and sympathizers surrounded the provincial Legislature this morning.

The workers, who went on strike today, were protesting proposed essential services legislation introduced by the Liberal government. The legislation will take away their ability to bargain with their employer without constraints.

The Northwood Home Support Workers, most of whom are women, visit clients at their homes, where they assist with personal care, provide nursing care, do light housekeeping, and more.

They are demanding wage parity with workers who perform the same duties in a hospital setting.

The new legislation requires that during a strike, a significant portion of home support workers stay on the job to perform those so-called essential services.

As soon as the legislation passes. all workers currently on strike must resume work while the union and the employer negotiate the who and what of essential services.

Also affected by the legislation are the 1,200 Home Support Workers belonging to 13 locals province-wide, who all voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.

"This is the most bizarre, draconian piece of legislation that I have ever witnessed, and I have been around for a very long time," said an angry Joan Jessome, President of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union.

"Meanwhile [Premier] MacNeil has already threatened the workers that if they don't take the offer that was rejected they will not get as much", said Jessome, referring to recent statements made by the Premier.

What constitutes an essential service is puzzling to Jessome.

"The government is talking about light housekeeping and laundry as essential services," said Jessome. "Every single home support worker does that. There is such a wide scope to this language that it is never going to be dealt with. This can go on for months and months."

Jessome is particularly upset because an offer by the union to avert a strike through arbitration was rejected by Premier MacNeil.

"If they were really concerned about the clients they would have accepted the offer of arbitration we made yesterday," Jessome told the Halifax Media Co-op. "We would have gotten back to the table, things would have settled down, the workers would have felt respected, the public would not have been at risk."

Ian Vanderberg is one of the workers who traveled to Province House to have his voice heard.

Going on strike is not a decision he made lightly, and he is offended by the suggestion that he doesn't care about his clients.

"I don't want to be on strike, I want to do my job," said Vanderberg. "I care very much about my clients. That is why I do what I do. I just want to earn enough to get by and support my family."

"I am angry over how the government has handled this whole thing," said Vanderberg. "I'd like to see them go with me one day when I work, and meet these clients that basically are just scraping by."

The job of a home support worker is not an easy one, said Vanderberg.

Workers travel from client to client in all weather anywhere in the Halifax Regional Municipality. They work alone and worry about going into places that may not be safe.

As well, many Northwood workers are required to be available for two additional unpaid hours per day. Elsewhere in Nova Scotia, workers may have to be available as much as sixteen hours a day, and still only get paid for five hours of work.

Meanwhile, they perform a service that is vital to many Nova Scotians, and that saves the government money as well.

Vanderberg believes that the new legislation is really about breaking the union.

"All of us workers are in this together. How can we say to somebody you only get strike pay while others [who are deemed essential] get paid full time?"

Vanderberg thinks this is only the beginning.

"If the government does this to the home care workers than they are going to try this with everybody else under the guise of saving money," Vanderberg warns.

 

See also: Northwood home support staff ready to strike if that is what it takes

 

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

 

 


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Topics: LabourHealth
699 words

Comments

I wonder what the average

I wonder what the average wage or wage range is for VONs and other home care nurses/workers in NS? And how much less do they make a year compared to in hospital workers?

The unpaid overtime sure doesn't sound fair.

Ive have been employed there

Ive have been employed there awhile. I make 16.66 an hour. I work 40 hours a week and get paid for 30. my net income was a little over 22,000 last year.

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