Credits: FILE PHOTO
The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) could have walked off the job on Wednesday after voting 91% in favour of a strike last month, but opted to extend its strike deadline to Thursday at 7 a.m. to have one last round of negotiations with Capital Health.
"Talks are continuing, but for the safety of patients and our members, I'm not at this point prepared to call a strike this late in the evening," union president Joan Jessome said as talks petered out Tuesday night.
NSGEU represents some 3,600 Halifax-area health-care workers in 150 fields, including licensed practical nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, anesthesia assistants and youth health centre co-ordinators.
Even without a strike, the labour dispute is having a serious impact on health-care delivery in the region. Capital Health has cancelled all 300 scheduled non-urgent surgeries, closed 172 beds and postponed 1,947 appointments. Outpatient clinics are only taking urgent cases. Only emergency rooms remain at full capacity, but those too will offer limited services in the event of a strike.
The main issue is wages, with Capital Health refusing demands it says would cost $26.5 million by the end of a three-year contract.
The union is seeking a 5.1% raise in the first year - like registered nurses received in a fall arbitration decision - and cost-of-living increases in the next two years.
"That amount applied across the province's health-care system could mean as much as an added $137.5 million in taxpayers' dollars annually," the health authority said.
But the workers say Capital Health's offers haven't been fair. On the union's Facebook page, member Danny Ells said the administration should look to its six-figure salary "upper echelons" to find savings.
"You got to cut the fat to get to the meat," he said.
Member Leo MacIssac said the employer "is trying to nickel and dime us to death here" with 1% raises over five years.