Our History

The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) is the largest union in the province of Nova Scotia and is the recognized bargaining agent for over 35,000 public and private sector employees.

Our members work in the civil service, centres of education, universities, hospitals, liquor stores, correctional facilities, municipalities, and other organizations across the Province.

The NSGEU is an active affiliate of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour (NSFL), the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). Our founding convention was held in Halifax on April 18-19 1958. Ninety-seven delegates representing 13 divisions with occupational and regional representation passed the constitution and elected their first eight-member executive, managers, and supervisors who would most effectively represent them.


Post-war Nova Scotia; boom times. As the population grows, so does the need for public services. From health care to birth registration and driver’s licenses, the Civil Service, (including health care) is growing and there is a rapid diversification of services. Government workers have no collective agreement; no ‘rules’ that make work fair for all. You could be hired and fired on a whim. There was no grievance process.

On April 18 – 19, 1958, a small group of government employees come together to change this. They form the Nova Scotia Civil Service Association. The first Convention has 97 delegates who pass our first constitution and elect our first eight-member executive. They knew if they stood together, they could improve their working life – and they did.


After much lobbying, in 1963, government establishes a Joint Council where negotiations are held. There are three members of this Council appointed by government, with only one appointee from us. It is far
from free collective bargaining – but it is a first step. In subsequent years we were able to negotiate an arbitration process as a dispute resolution mechanism.

The 1960’s are a time for growth, where the Civil Service Association begins to test the limitations of both being an Association and negotiating in a Joint Council.


By 1970, the members adopt a new constitution and vote to change our name to the Nova Scotia Government Employees Association. More public employees are joining. The first Steward training and Women’s Committee are formed. The Association is becoming a Union. In 1973, after government continues to stall negotiations and the arbitration process, our nurse members in Halifax vote to mass resign. As a result of their strong stance, they go from the lowest paid to the second highest paid nurses in the country. The gains they make set the bar for other members in health care and beyond.

From 1975 – 1982, there is spiraling inflation nationwide. The cost of living rises by 11 and 12% and government legislates ‘Anti-Inflation Wage Controls’ on the public sector. There are job cuts too while we hold rallies and lobby for free collective bargaining and fair wages that keep pace with inflation.  In 1977, we withdraw from participating in Joint Council and suspend negotiations with the Public Service Commission over issues of management rights, seniority, and ‘right to grieve’ management directives. In 1978, government passes the Civil Service Collective Bargaining Act (Bill 73). The Act lays out the collective bargaining process for the Civil Service and does not give members the right to strike. Instead, it provides for an interest arbitration process. At the same time, we join other provincial unions at the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).


Our members vote to change our name from the NSGEA to the NSGEU in 1981, reflecting the shift from an Association of employees to a Union. We become affiliated with the Canadian Labour Congress.
Delegates also vote at Convention to have a full-time paid President who is dedicated to the implementation of the goals of the membership. Among other initiatives, our first Education Officer is hired, and our first  Occupational Health and Safety Committee is established. Labour education is where we put much of  our energy in this decade with members learning how to be workplace stewards, local leaders, and
OHS representatives in their workplaces. Negotiations during the 80s contain cost of living increases and we continue to see growth in our  membership as Liquor Corporation employees, group home workers, school board workers, correctional  workers, hospital workers, and others vote to join us.

In 1989, we win a landmark case in Nova Scotia against a law that forbids government employees from  running for political office. Now, all members have political freedom to do so.


We have our first legal strike in the long weekend in May 1990 when our Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) members decide to “draw their line in the sand”. Our members stand together to fight for better
working conditions for part-timers – and win. We continue to grow through the 1990’s with university staff, home care, nursing homes, APSEA, Workers’ Compensation Board, Stock Transportation Ltd., Nova Scotia Community College staff, and Canadian Blood Services, among others joining our ranks.

Public Health, Nova Scotia Hearing and Speech, Addiction Services, the Nova Scotia Hospital and the Victoria General Hospitals are transferred from government to Health Boards which later became Health
Authorities. The Cameron and Savage governments are privatizing, closing and cutting public services in the name of austerity. They enter into private-public partnerships to build schools and jails. They also interfere with collective bargaining to freeze and cap wage increases. Our members join with other workers to hold rallies in support of public services and against cuts and privatization. Savage gains a reputation that matches his name.

Savage’s reorganization of health care and the creation of four Regional Health Boards including the QEII Health Sciences Centre results in run-off votes between the NSGEU and other unions representing
health care workers. Because we can demonstrate superior collective agreements in health care and are good advocates on behalf of members, we emerge from these votes as a lead union in the health care sector in Nova Scotia. Since then, NSGEU has led the struggle for improved wages and working conditions and other unions have followed suit.


During the first decade of the 2000s, the Hamm government announces cuts to the Civil Service and tries to legislate and impose a contract on health care members with Bill 68. Our health care and nurse bargaining units threaten mass resignation and government is forced to withdraw their legislation. In 2003, members working at Regional Residential Services Society endure the longest strike in NSGEU history – 77 days -fighting for respect for the work they do taking care of adults with intellectual disabilities. In 2004, we stop the Liberal government from taking away the right to strike from all provincial health care workers with rallies and opposition.

Our members build effective coalitions to advance public services and social justice like the Mental Health Coalition of Nova Scotia, the Post- Secondary Coalition, Nova Scotia Health Coalition and the Coalition Against Workplace Violence. It is also a time for giving back. At Conventions, delegates vote to donate annually to Feed Nova Scotia, Transition Houses of Nova Scotia, KidsHelpPhone, and more. The Human Rights Committee launches its annual Sock it to Poverty campaign, and the Women’s Committee begins a new NSGEU Cancer Fund. In absence of any programs, we develop our own Bully-Free Workplaces Program to address the growing issue of mental health in the workplace.

We continue to grow and diversify. Members join us from Municipal Housing Authorities, Children’s Aid, group homes, Cape Breton Regional Police and Sherbrooke Village, among others. In 2008, we reach a
landmark agreement with government to include Casuals working in the Civil Service in the union if they have over ten weeks of continuous employment. Over 1,300 employees now have the right to belong to our union.

2010 to present…

Our newly certified Metropolitan Housing Authority members go on strike to secure a fair first contract. Following this, an NDP government passes first-contract legislation, helping expedite the process for achieving an agreement. This same government stabilizes the Public Service Superannuation Pension Plan, agrees to joint trusteeship for the plan, and negotiates an acute health care agreement with us without interfering in the bargaining process. Unfortunately, they also choose to privatize government IT services and hand them over to IBM which affects many of our members and increases costs for Nova Scotians.

In 2013, a majority McNeil Liberal government begins an attack on labour rights. After our home care workers decide to strike for decent wages, government introduces Bill 30 making home care an essential service. After nurses vote to strike, government introduces Bill 37 which makes all community and acute health care work an essential service.

In order to carry out a health care amalgamation, government writes new legislation – Bill 1. This legislation redesigns the labour landscape to suit the employers and weaken us. It designates four bargaining units for the health care sector with one union representing members of one unit. We have members in multiple bargaining units and would lose thousands of members with this plan. In the end, an arbitrator refuses to apply the legislation in an unconstitutional manner and awards each bargaining unit to the union which holds the majority of members. As a result, McNeil shifts to a new governance model – a Bargaining Council.  This new multi-union Bargaining Council has given one voice to all health care workers across the province.

Next, they pass Bill 148 which mandates a wage pattern for the entire public sector and removes a previously negotiated retirement benefit from new employees and freezes it for current employees.

In 2014, McNeil cuts government programs and closes the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, opening a new Department of Business with all positions excluded from the union. We hold rallies and launch campaigns to defend public services and labour rights. Labour unites to launch constitutional appeals of Bills 30, 37, and 148 in the courts.

In 2015, the government passes Bill 100 which takes away collective bargaining rights, including the right to strike, from our members working in Universities if their employer declares a financial crisis.
The last decade has seen a growing health care crisis with staffing shortages and wait times escalating. The union publishes reports with clear solutions from our front line and extend our hand in collaboration but government refuses to act to address the issue. It may get worse as they have proposed a P3 model for new hospital builds in Halifax and Sydney.

Decades of cuts to the Civil Service are having an impact on our members working in Community Services, Child Welfare, Corrections, and Courthouses. Occupational Health and Safety are top of mind. We work with government where possible to make our members’ workplace lives better, and involve the Labour Board when necessary.

In 2018 we partnered with the Civil Service Commission to open an Office of Workplace Mental Health. This Office provides mental health navigational support and is available to all members of the Civil Service Long-Term Disability Plan.

We continue to grow with new members in group homes, nursing homes, home care and mental health associations, education, civil service, and with members like you!!!

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