November 10, 2021 - No. 105
New Brunswick Emergency Order Forces
Health Care Workers Back to Work
Reckless Use of Pandemic to Impose Anti-Worker, Anti-Social Agenda
• Demand for Measures to Attract and Retain Continuing Care Workers
• Pugwash Salt Mine Workers on Strike
New Brunswick Emergency Order Forces Health Care Workers Back to Work
holds a press conference outside the New Brunswick Legislature
demanding the government negotiate a just settlement, November 5, 2021.
5, New Brunswick's Minister of Justice and
Public Safety issued a mandatory order to force striking health care
workers back to work. The workers are part of the 22,000 workers from 10
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals on strike for
wages they consider acceptable and essential to solving the recruitment
and retention crisis in public services in the province. As of October
31, the government of Premier Blaine Higgs had already locked out nearly
education workers participating in the strike, forcing schools to close
and imposing remote learning, against the interests and
wishes of families and youth.
It is significant that the health care workers are being forced back
to work and their strike declared illegal through an order signed by
the minister responsible for public safety. The just struggle of the
workers, who have done everything possible to avoid having to strike to
obtain a settlement they consider acceptable, is thus being characterized as
a threat to public safety. The mandatory order goes so far as to
provide that if workers do not return to work as ordered, employers
will be allowed to fire them and replace them with non-union employees
or even contract out their jobs. This anti-worker, anti-public service
dictate is said to be necessary for public
safety, but what could be more harmful than firing experienced and
organized workers and replacing them with who knows what, possibly
private agencies? This is a serious matter of concern for New Brunswick
workers and all workers across the country and makes it all the more
urgent to oppose the New Brunswick government's retrogressive
and dangerous agenda.
The ministerial order forcing health care workers back to work was
adopted after the Higgs government refused to consider the union's
latest offer. On the evening of
November 4, Premier Higgs, accompanied by a small delegation,
met with some of the members of the union's centralized
negotiating team. He presented an offer which the delegation then
presented to the entire centralized bargaining team. The team submitted
a counter-offer to which the government never responded. This is the
third time the Higgs government has walked away from negotiations in a
few months, this time to impose a ministerial order to crush the
health care workers' strike.
The union reported that the two parties had been very close to an
agreement. The centralized bargaining was supposed to focus on wages
only, and the difference was $0.50 per hour over a five-year contract.
However, the government deliberately sabotaged any
possibility of an agreement, as it has done all along, by maintaining
its demands for concessions on the pension plans of two of the 10
locals, to turn their defined benefit plan into a so-called shared risk
plan that workers oppose. Through such a plan, workers' pension
benefits can be cut if the plan is declared underfunded. In addition to
the fact that pensions were not even supposed to be part of centralized
bargaining, the union reports that the government tried to force through this
concession by arguing that these workers' current pension plan was
underfunded. This is true, but only because the government has not put
any money into the plan for years, as it is legally obligated to do.
The ministerial mandatory order was passed under the renewed state of
emergency declared by the Higgs government on September 24 in response
to the province's worsening COVID-19 situation. The order decrees that
all striking CUPE health care workers are now considered to be
essential and must return to work as of midnight on November 6. It
decrees that anyone who fails to comply with the order will be fined a
minimum of $480 and a maximum of $20,400 for each day or part of the
day not worked, and that the same will apply to anyone who advises a
person not to comply with the order. The organization to which a
worker belongs will have to pay a minimum fine of $100,000 for each day
or part of the day that it does not comply with the order, which sets
no maximum fine.
The union has strongly denounced the ministerial order as an attack
on its right to negotiate terms and conditions it deems acceptable. The
union has also been informed by its members that although the order
covers all striking health care employees, many of them were actually
turned away when they reported to work.
"Our members were upset, but prepared to go back to work this
morning," said Brent Wiggins, CUPE Local 1190 president and member of
the Centralized Bargaining Team, in a press release issued by CUPE on
November 6. "Now, they are being told their services are no longer
needed. The use of such heavy-handed tactics to attack
members' rights, instead of signing a collective agreement, is
"Mr. Higgs, you will not break our solidarity. We will not be
divided," declared Norma Robinson, president of CUPE Local 1252 and a
member of the centralized bargaining team, in the same press release.
The union has announced that it will take legal action to defend its members.
Workers' Forum joins with all New Brunswick workers and
residents in denouncing this abuse of power by the government. Using a
crisis such as the pandemic as an opportunity to pursue a dirty agenda
against those who are defending and protecting the public puts all New
Brunswickers at risk. In blaming workers for the impacts of the strike
on services, the government is hiding its own responsibility for the
decades' long attacks by successive governments on social programs and
public services that have wrecked society's ability to deal with crises
such as COVID-19. It is the working people who have and continue to
hold the system together at the risk of their health, safety and lives.
Let's all demand an end to this anti-worker, anti-social agenda by
defending the rights and dignity of workers and by placing their claims
at the heart of sorting out the problems facing public services and
society at large.
1. Premier Blaine
Higgs is renowned for having imposed a "shared risk" pension plan on
workers at the Irving refinery when he was the company's senior
executive. He was the government's finance minister when it passed
legislation in 2013 mandating the conversion of public sector workers'
defined benefit pension plans to shared risk plans. Several unions are
still engaged in court proceedings against this attack on their pension
Nova Scotia workers and their organizations are demanding that
definite measures be taken to attract and retain more continuing care
workers. While acknowledging the plans of the provincial government to
hire recruiters in order to hire more health care workers, the Nova
Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) writes in a
November 1 media release that the plan will not ensure that this work
is adequately funded, staffed and treated as an integral part of
improving the health care system overall. Continuing care workers
provide care for people outside of hospitals, in their private homes
and long-term care homes.
"Right now, we need our elected leaders to take a giant leap towards
supporting Continuing Care Assistants," said NSGEU President Jason
MacLean. "You can hire all the recruiters you want, but if the wages
and benefits aren't competitive with what is being offered in other
jurisdictions, workers will not choose to be a part of Nova Scotia's
continuing care sector."
According to the NSGEU, there are two immediate steps that
government must take: implement the recommended minimum 4.1 daily hours
of care for residents in long-term care facilities that has been put
forward by several health care organizations, and implement standard
shifts to alleviate stress on home care workers.
The press release points out that in the home care sector, in the
absence of standard work schedules, home care workers can be required
to be available for 12 to 14 hours a day for what can amount to just a
few hours of pay. In some agencies, if a client visit is cancelled, the
employee has to be willing to pick up visits, at any time, over a seven to
14-day period to ensure they get paid. Shifts are subject to change
without notice, leaving families struggling to make childcare
arrangements, forcing employees to miss previously scheduled
appointments and preventing employees from being able to fulfill
previously made commitments to their families and communities.
The implementation of standard shifts would go a long way to
alleviate the immense stress faced by home care workers by bringing
stability to their work schedules and would improve recruitment and
retention of workers in the sector. As well, the NSGEU points out that
to solve the problem of recruitment and retention it is necessary that
the agencies be funded properly to provide reliable, standard schedules
A related problem, according to the NSGEU, is that the ability of
agencies to offer income guarantees is hindered by their inadequate
The union notes that hospitals, long-term care homes and home care
are competing for workers because compensation levels are not equal. It
is proposing that the government provide funding in a way that allows
for equivalent compensation levels for all continuing care workers.
"The Premier has pledged to fix health care, and it is critical that
we remember that long-term care and home care are a part of health
care. They cannot be neglected any longer," said Jason MacLean.
140 unionized workers at the Windsor Salt mine in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, members of
Unifor Local 823, went on strike on November 5. Their collective
agreement expired in October 2020. On August 26, workers massively
rejected the company's offer. Workers are saying that during
negotiations, the company began stockpiling salt in Halifax and Prince
Edward Island, to prepare to keep business going in the case of an
extended strike or lockout.
According to the union, the main points of contention are demands
for concessions related to work hours, layoff provisions, and pensions.
Workers have already experienced layoffs twice in the past
year. The first was during the winter, when the company used the
pretext of a mild winter to lay off of a large number of workers, under
the hoax that there would be a reduced need for deicing salt for
roads, one of the mine's main products. The second layoff took
place in the summer, during a shutdown to replace the mine's headframe.
The headframe is a structure above the mine that allows for
the hoisting of machinery, personnel and materials.
Windsor Salt was recently purchased by U.S.-based Stone Canyon
Holdings which acquired the Pugwash operation in April as part of its
acquisition of the North American salt assets of the previous owner,
Germany-based K+S Aktiengesellschaft AG. Union leaders at the
Pugwash mine reported that they have contacted the union
representatives at other company operations in North America and have
been informed that the company is demanding similar concessions from
workers at those operations.
With this new acquisition, Stone Canyon's salt business, SCI Salt,
is now considered one of the world's largest salt producers. On its
website, the company informs that SCI Salt is a producer and a supplier
for a variety of industries, including deicing and winter road
maintenance, food, animal nutrition, pharmaceutical, water softening
and pool supply, among others. It has an annual production capacity of
over 29 million tons in 24 salt production facilities, 15 processing
plants and 130 storage locations across North America, South America
and the Caribbean.
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