JUDY HAIVEN and LARRY HAIVEN \\
As we approach Labour Day of 2019, we would do well to ponder the miserable situation of those who toil in the workplaces of this province and how this hurts us all.
A combination of both the presence and absence of legislation and rising costs conspires to diminish the power of working Nova Scotians to support themselves and their families and to maintain their dignity and health at work. And this deterioration is happening despite the slow but steady economic recovery of the past several years. Somebody is thriving from rising GDP and it is not those who work for wages.
That continues a trend of the past 35 years. Over that period, despite generally rising economic prosperity, real median wages in Nova Scotia have dropped. In other words, most workers are worse off than they were in 1981.
Nova Scotia now has the unenviable reputation of having the lowest (but for P.E.I.) average wage in Canada.
The trend downward also applies to other working terms and conditions. A recent report for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Nova Scotia, by Prof. Rebecca Casey of Acadia University, reveals that Nova Scotia has among the poorest labour standards provisions in the country. We have one of the longest work weeks, with no overtime pay until after 48 hours. Our minimum wage, starting at $11.05 is nowhere near the $19.17 “living wage” in Halifax that the CCPA-NS says is required for a two-parent family with two children to barely meet its needs. Our seven statutory holidays and two weeks of vacation are also bottom-dwellers. And even those paltry provisions are not available to thousands of workers exempted from labour standards.
As for Occupational Health and Safety, Nova Scotia is now the only Canadian jurisdiction that has neither introduced nor publicly announced the intention of introducing legislation against psychological harassment or bullying in the workplace. The International Labour Organization, with Canada’s backing, has recently adopted Convention 190 calling upon member states (and provinces) to prohibit “a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm.” Nova Scotia’s absence is conspicuous.
The one group to have resisted this trend downward consisted of unionized credentialized skilled workers like teachers and nurses who have some bargaining power. It is to that group that the provincial Liberal government turned upon after its election in 2013, waging an all-out war against organized labour, passing a tsunami of legislation to curtail the ability of unions to organize new workers and to bargain collectively. Most of this legislation will likely be declared unconstitutional, under the Charter protection of the right to unionize and to strike. But while those challenges work their way through the courts, the legislation stands. The restrictions on public sector unions have a chilling effect on all other unions.
The Nova Scotia assault on unionized and non-unionized labour has a damaging effect on our economy. Far from contributing to prosperity, it emboldens employers to rely on a low-wage ghetto for their profits. It is a disincentive to employers to invest in value-added capital intensification, research and development and worker training.
In short, far from stimulating economic development, our politicians promote lazy capital. Shame on both of them.
Judy Haiven is a retired professor of management at Saint Mary’s University. Larry Haiven is professor emeritus of management at Saint Mary’s University. They are both members of Equity Watch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to workplace rights.