Higgs says province is making final offer to nursing home workers

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says the province is close to making its final offer to nursing home workers, but a large wage settlement is not part of it.

“Let’s address the actual work-life balance,” he said.

“If they’re expecting what they proposed, then that’s not what it is. If they’re looking for a big wage settlement, that’s not what it is.”

As the government preps the offer, CUPE members were back protesting in front of the legislature. Members held a recreation of a May 30 vote where opposition members passed a motion calling on the government to grant binding arbitration rights to the union to help end the long running dispute.

The workers at New Brunswick’s non-profit nursing homes have been without a contract since 2016, but was granted the right to strike by the labour board in 2018. The union voted to exercise that right earlier this year, but has been kept on the job while a government appeal works its way through the courts.

Union leadership has yet to receive the latest offer, but says that Higgs’ comments are not encouraging.

“It’s unfortunate that he senses that it’s not something we’re going to like, so obviously is it a waste of time again? I don’t know,” said Sharon Teare, president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions.

CUPE NB president Brien Watson says he doesn’t expect the offer to be particularly new.

“We’ve heard over and over and over and over again that there’s a new offer coming on the table and it’s always come back the exact same offer, just maybe a little twist on it somehow,” he said.

“They’re looking for us to find a way to give ourselves our own raise, by taking away sick time or whatever to fund our own fair wages. Again, we’ve heard that over and over and it’s still the same old offer.”

Wages and working conditions have been among the most contentious points throughout negotiations. Higgs has repeatedly said the province can’t afford a wage increase, but Watson says the union is refusing to budge.

“It’s not acceptable, I mean we’ve been falling back in our wages since 2008,” he said.

“We’ve taken the zeros, we’ve taken the point fives, we’ve taken ones, and our members in this province are just falling so far behind in their spending power that we need those fair wages.”

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