The province plans to introduce a bill on Friday, Feb. 28, that will protect the health and safety of some of the most vulnerable Nova Scotians who rely on home support workers. The act will require Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals, and the employers of home support workers, including Northwood Homecare Ltd. and VON Home Support, to provide essential services during a work stoppage or lockout. Several parties recently notified the province they would not be able to reach an agreement through collective bargaining and multiple conciliation attempts. The NSGEU also refused to provide a minimal level of essential services during an impending strike. Home support workers play an important role in the health-care system, providing sick and vulnerable Nova Scotians and their families with important services like feeding, bathing and mobility support. “The health and safety of Nova Scotians is our number one priority,” said Labour and Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan. “We value our home support workers as they are the ones who help people stay in their homes and communities, where they want to be. This bill will ensure patients and their families can count on this essential care during a strike.” Essential service is based on the risk of death or serious health consequences if the service is not provided. These include services that may cause damage to the mental or physical health of the client. The contract between Northwood Home Care Ltd. and NSGEU Local 34 expired March 31, 2012. Private negotiations then started between the parties. The department of Labour and Advanced Education received a request for conciliation services on Oct. 9, 2013. On Feb. 20, 2014, the union rejected the employer’s final offer that included a wage increase of 7.5 per cent over three years. Other parties are also moving into a strike position, and will now have to have an essential services agreement in place before any action can be taken. “Government supports the principles of collective bargaining, but we also have a responsibility to ensure essential services are provided,” said Ms. Regan. “This bill is about giving Nova Scotians peace of mind, and setting out a reasonable and orderly process so patients and families who need it most know they will get essential support, even during a strike.” Nova Scotia is the only province without some type of legislation dealing with essential services in the health and community services sectors in the event of a labour dispute. The bill maintains employees’ right to bargain collectively and take strike action, while ensuring the most vulnerable are protected in the event of a labour dispute.