Premier says union uses attack on worker as an excuse to complain


STEPHEN McNEIL DOESN’T DENY THE ATTACK. He just doesn’t see why the union has to complain about it and take attention away from all the great work he is doing.

The attack happened to a vehicle compliance officer on July 8 at the Nova Scotia truck weigh scale in Fort Lawrence, N.S. Nova Scotia RCMP said a call came in just before 8 p.m. about a 50-year-old man who assaulted the officer during an inspection. Staff at the scale house intervened and detained the attacker until the RCMP arrived.

Union pushes for more protections

“This is something that has been ongoing with this group of workers, our vehicle compliance officers, for some time,” says Jason MacLean, president of the NSGEU (Nova Scotia Government Employees Union.

The officers work alone and are equipped with only a phone. Maclean says the union has been pressing the government to improve self-protection for the compliance officers for some time, “not to go out and enforce anything on people, but to be able to protect themselves if a situation like this does arise.”

MacLean said he’s not sure why the man got angry at the officer.

“Obviously, the person wasn’t happy. I can’t make it up why the person got upset but one could figure, maybe they waited a long time at the border, [but] maybe they didn’t,” he said.

There have been delays at the N.S.-N.B. border since the Atlantic provinces opened up an bubble on July 3. Truck drivers and passenger vehicles have faced long waits, sometimes long enough for truckers to miss assigned delivery dates.

MacLean said the officer is shaken up and sore from the incident.

“I hope people don’t take their frustrations out on the people who are working the border because they are just following orders,” MacLean said.

Premier is not amused

The beating turned out to be a sore point for the Nova Scotia premier when a reporter asked him about it at a media briefing on July 8.

McNeil began with typical politician speak. He called the assault “concerning” and said, “I do want to thank the tremendous work that has been happening by the members of the public service, and I continue to look forward to work with them.”

But the reporter reminded the premier that there had been three or four similar incidents in the past several months. Then she asked the premier if he was prepared to talk with the union about “providing more training, providing more protective equipment that they say workers need?”

The premier didn’t answer the question. He chose to attack the NSGEU instead. He said:  “To me, the union has looked at every opportunity to complain and looked to divide,” he declared. There is nothing new in this. McNeil has made unions his public enemy number one since he first took office close to seven years ago.

More proof of that came at the end of the news conference when, out of the clear blue, McNeil returned to union-bashing. He said: “There are those out there who thrive on the negative, who misinform to suit their own purposes, and who distort the facts to divide us. Let’s not let that happen.”

What, if anything, the premier was prepared to do to improve the on the job personal safety and security of workers facing a frustrated and sometimes angry public was left unanswered.

More cracking the whip

In early July Laura Lee Langley, Nova Scotia’s public service commissioner, sent letters of discipline to be placed in the personnel files of each unionized Nova Scotia Crown attorney who participated in last fall’s job action to protest government legislation.

In the letter Langley told the attorneys their job action warranted “written discipline” as it violated, “a duty of loyalty to your employer” and did not reflect behaviour “to support the efforts of our elected government.”

McNeil claims he has great respect for workers, but never shows any respect for unions. It makes no sense logically. But, when it comes to politics in Nova Scotia that’s as regular as full moons and high tides.

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