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VIBERT: Workplace equity troubles Nova Scotia

Jim Vibert
Jim Vibert - SaltWire Network

The New Democrats’ charge that the Nova Scotia government is insensitive to the barriers faced by working mothers gained a little more traction this week.

As it now stands, Nova Scotian women have to be in their jobs longer than women in any other province to ensure those jobs are protected while they are on maternity leave.

Provincial labour minister Labi Kousoulis promised to close the gap by Christmas, but he also said the delay was to allow for consultations that he claimed were already under way.

His department contradicted him this week and said the consultations are only in the planning stage.

In Nova Scotia, a woman needs to be in her job for a year before she’s assured that job will be waiting for her when her maternity leave is up. That’s months longer than elsewhere in Canada.

“We've already started consultation on that and I have committed to this House that the (required time in a job) will be shortened by Christmastime,” Kousoulis told the legislature this month during debate on amendments to the Labour Standards Code. “What I'd like to do is have quick consultation, which has already started, and we will bring forward that (change) within the next six weeks.”

But in response to questions about the nature and duration of that consultation, Kousoulis’ department wrote:

“Consultation on this issue is expected to begin this fall. The (Labour) Department is currently in the process of developing a consultation plan to seek feedback on this issue.”

So, the consultation Kousoulis claimed was under way is, according to his department, under construction, which casts doubt on his related promise to have positive news for working women by Christmas.

The minister’s confusion — or duplicity — concerning the progress of consultations is a side show.

This is about equity in the workplace. Why, and with whom, does the government need to consult before doing the right thing to address an inequity that poses another obstacle for working women?

The provincial Labour Standards Code was amended this fall to bring Nova Scotia in line with the federal statute and the rest of the country, by extending maternity and parental leave from 52 to 77 weeks.

But, when it became clear the government wasn’t prepared – at the same time – to bring Nova Scotia’s job protection provisions in line with the rest of the country, NDP MLAs blistered the Liberal patriarchy.

Dartmouth South New Democrat Claudia Chender provided cross-Canada comparisons on how long provinces require women to be in their jobs before they are protected.

In British Columbia, New Brunswick and Quebec job protection is automatic. In Alberta it’s 90 days; in Ontario, 13 weeks; in Saskatchewan, P.E.I., and Newfoundland and Labrador it’s 20 weeks; in Manitoba it’s seven months; but in Nova Scotian it is a year.

Women give up seniority, promotions and raises in order to bear and nurture children, Tammy Martin (NDP-Cape Breton Centre) said. The government’s reticence to improve job protection for new mothers is another brick in the wall for working women.

The New Democrats are right.

By now everyone knows the story. Nova Scotia’s population is greying and there aren’t nearly enough young people to pick up the tax and other burdens boomers are shedding with glee.

Nova Scotia is in desperate need of population renewal — more babies — so the government’s insistence on consultation before it pulls Nova Scotia off the bottom of the national heap is short-sighted.

Add to that myopia the minister’s disingenuous or uninformed claim that consultations are already under way, and the government’s credibility on the issue becomes as murky as its vision.

Susan Leblanc (NDP-Dartmouth North) sees a pattern in the government’s approach to problems that primarily affect women.

The province refuses to legislate job protection for victims of domestic violence nor will it enact a law advocated by university students to address sexual violence on college campuses.

Working women in Nova Scotia are forced into choices, like whether to take a better job or stay where they are so they can start a family.

To give the minister the benefit of the doubt, maybe he was mistaken about the timing of consultations, or maybe he’s had informal discussions and considers those part of the consultation.

But why the government needs to seek someone’s “input” before doing the right thing — and add a measure of equity to the workplace — is a mystery.

Jim Vibert, a journalist and writer for longer than he cares to admit, consulted or worked for five Nova Scotia governments. He now keeps a close and critical eye on provincial and regional powers.

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