Last week’s to-the-edge-of-the-ledge, past-the-last-minute contract settlement between Capital Health and its 3,600 health workers raises all sorts of difficult but intriguing questions.
The first, and most immediate, of course, is could the disruption—even without an actual strike, the anticipation cancelled 560 elective surgeries and emptied 172 beds—have been avoided?
The short answer is probably not. Both sides have legitimate, vital interests in the outcome and only the combined pressure of a looming deadline and smacking up against the real-life consequences of not settling creates the conditions necessary for compromise.
So long as there is collective bargaining, we will have brinkmanship.
But should we even have collective bargaining in health care? Let’s come back to that.
Is the settlement fair? We won’t know the full financial implications until an arbitrator picks either the union’s (nine per cent over three years) or the province’s (6.5 per cent) final position. The province’s finance department has undoubtedly already crunched both scenarios, so Premier Darrell Dexter should disclose them so we can discuss their merits now.
This year’s provincial budget includes a $199-million “restructuring” line item, supposedly to cover contract settlement contingencies above the government’s hoped-for one per cent salary increases, so the deal may not deflect the government’s goal of balancing the books by next year. But it will raise the bar for other public sector workers.
Other numbers also come into play when asking if the settlement makes sense. Nova Scotians’ cost of living increased by 3.7 per cent last year while wage settlements barely nudged 0.4 per cent. Even the union’s final demand just keeps pace with cost-of-living increases.
One more, different set of “numbers:” the settlement calls for an across-the-board wage increase, meaning those at the lowest end of the union’s 100 or so different job categories—those who need more most—will get the least. How fair is that?
Back to collective bargaining and essential services. Given that the final salary settlement ended up in the hands of an arbitrator anyway, why not cut to the chase and ban strikes in health care?
That, my friend, is a whole other discussion. What do you think?