Compulsory Arbitration in Health Care Gets Thumbs Down from New Report

November 17, 2008, 2:51 PM EST

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Compulsory arbitration is not a good substitute for the right to use strikes in health care if collective bargaining fails, a new report says.

A study by The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - Nova Scotia says that removing the right to strike and replacing it with compulsory arbitration will only worsen some of the most difficult problems in provincial health human resources.

Authors Judy and Larry Haiven, associate professors at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary's University, said if arbitration works at all, it is only where the problems are simple and where marginal adjustments are needed.

"Serious problem-solving is not possible unless the threat of strike is available to healthcare unions: For rectification costs serious money," said Larry Haiven. "Take away the right to strike and government and employers will not have to spend it. As a result, inequities will continue, as will the crisis of recruitment, retention and morale. A shortage of health care workers willing to remain in the province is a serious threat to the system. Effective health care, hence, will be compromised."

Proponents of the strike ban incorrectly assume that a third party can come up with solutions that will solve those problems.

"Arbitration will not solve complex and costly problems and will instead give the parties and especially managements and governments, an excuse to put off dealing with difficult issues until it is too late," Haiven said.

The Haiven's report strongly substantiates what health care unions have been saying, said Shauna Wilcox, President of CAW Local 4600 and President of the CAW's Nova Scotia Health Care Council.

"In order to deal with the serious issues facing health care today, we need to maintain our right to strike," said Wilcox. "Throughout the report it shows why we can not depend on a third party to understand and make important decisions which will affect the lives of the workers."

CAW area director Les Holloway said: "Instead of focusing on taking workers rights away the government should focus on fair and just bargaining for its health care workers."

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