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Updated: Fri, 04 Apr 2014 08:23:52 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Capital Health nurses' strike ends

Nurses picketed outside the provincial legislature overnight as MLAs debated essential services legislation. Paul Palmeter/CBC

Nurses picketed outside the provincial legislature overnight as MLAs debated essential services legislation. Paul Palmeter/CBC

Striking Capital Health nurses in Nova Scotia headed back to work this morning after an essential services law passed following an overnight sitting of the legislature.

The union representing 2,400 nurses, however, vows to continue to fight the legislation, and says it will launch a constitutional challenge to the Essential Health and Community Services Act.

Activists with the Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council are protesting the law and have occupied the Bedford constituency office of Labour Minister Kelly Regan.

The legal strike lasted a little more than 24 hours. The nurses had also walked out illegally on Tuesday when the legislation was introduced, but were ordered back to work by the Nova Scotia Labour Board.

Nurses outside the Halifax Infirmary on Friday say they went on strike over concerns about patient care and are unhappy with the new law. 

"People are very upset, because it’s patient care," said Lisa Brimfield, an intensive-care nurse. "It comes from the heart, so it’s what we feel."

Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU), says the Liberal government has "changed the face of collective bargaining in this province."

"They didn't just let the workers down," she said after the vote. "They’ve let every Nova Scotian down. We’ve been fighting for patient safety, we’ve been fighting for better working conditions, we’ve been fighting for the right things."

Premier Stephen McNeil's government says Bill 37 is needed to guarantee certain levels of service during strikes by health-care workers.

It will force unions to work out an agreement with the employer on essential services before a walkout can take place. Health-care unions fear such negotiations would take months, delaying any strike action.

"We’ll be challenging this in the courts," said Jason MacLean, first vice-president of the NSGEU. "We don't believe this is a fair law and I think we can do it under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

Law pours 'salt on the wound'

The Progressive Conservatives and the NDP opposed Bill 37. Maureen MacDonald, the NDP's interim leader, says it only pours "salt on the wound."

"If anybody thinks these problems are going to be dealt with by this bill and not made worse by this bill, then they’re dreaming in Technicolour," she said. "The problems that nurses are describing will not go away because of this legislation."

A major sticking point during contract talks has been a union demand for nurse-to-patient ratios, something opposed by Capital Health.

McNeil has acknowledged there are concerns around staffing, but has argued ratios should not be included in a collective agreement. He said essential services legislation is in place in other parts of the country.

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