Update on Bill 148: Hearing Dates Set

Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government passed Bill 148 in 2015 and proclaimed it in 2017. That legislation froze the long service award and legislated five years of wage low wage increases including two zero per cent increases for thousands of public sector workers. NSGEU, in solidarity with other impacted unions, have been working diligently to have this dangerous piece of anti-worker legislation repealed as a breach of Section 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The union knew that pursing legal action would be a slow process, and that continues to be true, especially since the government is delaying every step of the way.

Initially, this challenge was delayed when then Premier McNeil referred the legislation to the Court of Appeal for an opinion. The province then made a series of preliminary objections to material being sought by the Unions. Once those matters were resolved, the Court of Appeal concluded in 2022 that it was not the appropriate forum to decide whether the legislation breached the Charter (link to previous update).

There was some reason for optimism in 2021 when Tim Houston and the Conservatives formed government. In a survey sent to the union the Conservatives committed to repealing Bill 148 if elected.

Once in government Finance Minister Allan McMaster did a U-turn on this commitment and said the legislation is redundant and does not need to be repealed. This forced the unions to continue the court process.

Last week the Court made two important decisions related to the union’s case. It decided that the case can continue as an expedited application and did not need to be converted into an action which would have meant a longer formal legal case. This prevented any further delays needed to convert the case into an action.

Secondly, the Court set dates for the hearing and the various procedural steps that must take place.

The hearing is scheduled for June 2, 3, 4, and 5, 2025. It also includes a number of deadlines over the next 22 months for disclosures, affidavits, expert reports, rebuttal reports and briefs. This is without question a long process.

However, it is a process and fight worth having. Bill 148 can not be allowed to create a precedent for future governments to use as leverage against working people.

As you will recall Bill 148 did three things that directly interfered with your right to full, free, collective bargaining:

It imposed a non-negotiated wage pattern on the entire public sector (0%, 0%, 1.0%, 1.5% & an additional 0.5% on the last day of the agreement);
It removed long-standing articles from the Civil Service Agreement (ending the retirement allowance/public service award as of April 1, 2015);
Prohibiting an arbitrator from awarding anything above the above-noted wage pattern.

Even before government proclaimed the Bill into force, the threat of legislation hobbled the unions’ bargaining power and prevented us from being able to freely conclude the collective bargaining process, because it took away the leverage of wages and monetary items like the service award off the table completely. After a significant amount of time with very little progress in bargaining at any major tables, the NSGEU announced in late summer 2017 that it would apply to the Labour Board to appoint an Interest Arbitration Board to settle the Civil Service Agreement, as is our right under the legislation that applied. Government proclaimed the legislation to prevent the interest arbitrator from awarding any monetary increases that were higher than was set out in the legislation.

The unions’ argument is that Bill 148 breaches Section 2(d) of the Charter, which guarantees Canadians Freedom of Association and protects the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike.

The membership will be updated as the process unfolds over the next 22 months.

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