Challenge to N.B. government back-to-work order for health workers in court Monday

·2 min read

FREDERICTON — A union-led court challenge to the New Brunswick government's back-to-work order for striking health-care employees will be heard on Monday in Fredericton.

The government issued the emergency order last week, threatening fines up to $20,400 per day for health-care workers who refuse to return to their jobs. The Canadian Union of Public Employees is threatened with a minimum fine of $100,000 for each day that a worker doesn't comply with the order.

Thousands of other public servants, including school bus drivers, educational support staff and workers in transportation, corrections and the community college system, have been on strike for almost two weeks.

Attorney General Hugh Flemming has said the emergency order for health workers was necessary because there was a risk of medical treatment not being provided and loss of life if the strike continued.

The government said last week in a news release that more than 11,800 health-care appointments, procedures and surgeries had been cancelled since Nov. 1. It also said cleaning, laundry and food services in hospitals had been impacted.

CUPE lawyer Joel Michaud says the emergency order is unconstitutional and the fines are excessive.

"There are mechanisms in the Public Service Labour Relations Act that already deal with these issues," he said in an interview Wednesday. "The fines provided for in the emergency order are just totally out of whack with what would be reasonable in the circumstances."

Michaud called the order and the size of the fines a form of union busting. "It's offensive," he said. "It's a means of bullying and intimidation of the members and of the union, which is totally unnecessary."

In the legislature Wednesday, Liberal Opposition Leader Roger Melanson called the emergency order an abuse of power.

In response, Premier Blaine Higgs said the back-to-work decree for health workers is linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This is based on the health and safety of the citizens of this province," Higgs said.

CUPE filed a motion to have the government's emergency order suspended until the court can rule on the merits of the challenge. The hearing for that motion will be heard Monday morning before the Court of Queen's Bench.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2021.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

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