Nova Scotia passes first contract legislation

Law sends negotiations to conciliation when employer, new union reach impasse

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

Bill 102 sends negotiations to conciliation if an employer and a newly certified union reach a bargaining impasse. 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 will 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.

The legislation has received criticism from large companies, such as Sobeys Inc. and Michelin, who have said it will make the province a less attractive place for business.

"With this legislation in place I have to say that it's a mark against Nova Scotia, when competing with the likes of New Brunswick or P.E.I.," said Sobeys vice-president of human resources Dave Fearon in the legislature last week. "It's going to prevent organizations, companies from coming into Nova Scotia. And we will never understand fully the impact that that has on the economy of Nova Scotia.”

Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie was also against the changes. Baillie said the opposition “threw everything we had against it” in the House.

“None of that worked and we’re very disappointed, but more than that, the Nova Scotians who worked for or hoped to work for companies like Sobeys or Michelin should be disappointed,” Baillie said.

Danny Cavanagh, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Nova Scotia, says 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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