NS Court of Appeal upholds arbitration board's wage decision for paramedics

The Board's decision is reasonable despite the challenge over inflation considerations: court

NS Court of Appeal upholds arbitration board's wage decision for paramedics

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has reversed a lower court decision regarding an interest arbitration award in a wage dispute between EMC Emergency Medical Care Inc. and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).

CUPW represents paramedics, communications officers, and transfer administrators. The court ruled that the arbitration board's award was reasonable, rejecting the NS Supreme Court's earlier finding.

The Essential Health and Community Services Act governs collective bargaining for essential services in Nova Scotia, preventing work stoppages by mandating interest arbitration. EMC operates a province-wide ambulance service and is considered an essential service under the Act. CUPW represents 63 EMC's Medical Communication Centre employees, including 49 paramedic communications officers.

Negotiations between EMC and CUPW for a renewed collective agreement stalled over wage issues. As per the act, the dispute went to an interest arbitration board, which applied the "replication" principle—aiming to replicate the terms of a collective agreement that would result from hypothetical free negotiations, including the option of a work stoppage.

The arbitration board used wage rates from two other EMC bargaining units as comparators: one larger and one smaller than CUPW's unit. The awarded wage increases were lower than CUPW's proposals, leading the union to seek judicial review because the board had inadequately considered inflation's impact on wages.

The NS Supreme Court quashed the wage portion of the award, ruling it unreasonable. The judge criticized the board for "blindly" applying the replication principle and for insufficient reasoning on socio-economic factors, particularly inflation.

EMC appealed, arguing that the arbitration board's decision was reasonable. The Court of Appeal agreed, emphasizing that the board correctly applied the statutory criteria and replication principle. The court noted that the arbitration board's decision was transparent, intelligible, and justified, with a clear and rational reasoning process.

The Court of Appeal highlighted that both parties had agreed on the replication principle as the guiding framework for the arbitration. The board had determined that the most comparable groups were EMC's units with the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union (NSGEU) and the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), which performed similar work.

The arbitration board awarded Paramedic Communications Officers an additional 3 percent wage increase to address recruitment and retention challenges. The board found no justification for extending this adjustment to other classifications within CUPW's unit.

The Court of Appeal concluded that the board's decision was reasonable and quashed the Supreme Court's order. The case was remitted to the newly appointed arbitration board to reconsider the wage rate increases, specifically in light of inflation, as directed by the lower court.

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