FREDERICTON (GNB) -- The following statement was issued today by Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard on the strike threat by CUPE nursing home workers:

If you or your loved ones are in a nursing home currently, you were probably very concerned to hear that CUPE has given strike notice in 46 of our province’s nursing homes. I can assure you that contingency plans are in place to ensure that care can continue to be provided. However, we understand that contingencies alone will not alleviate concerns. Only when the threat of a strike is ended, will nursing home residents and their families feel secure that they will continue to receive the current high level of care.

I want to inform New Brunswickers that a temporary stay order has been granted by the Court of Queen's Bench for 10 days. With the exception of York Care Centre, employees in the other 45 homes will be prohibited from striking by law during that time. This provides some peace of mind for residents and families and provides time for the parties to get back to the negotiating table.

While I support the collective bargaining process and workers ability to strike, the health and safety of nursing home residents is my primary concern.

I know the individual employees care about their residents and would not want to harm the residents they care for in any way. However, we are saddened that the union would announce its intention to strike before returning to the table.

Our government feels the care provided to nursing home residents is an essential service. Legislation has been in place for 10 years but the Labour and Employment Board ruled that a section of the act is unconstitutional. The board subsequently denied the government’s request to suspend its decision in order for the government to be provided time to remediate the section of the act ruled unconstitutional, so we decided to request a judicial review and a stay of the board’s decision.

I believe very strongly that the service they provide should be designated essential so an appropriate number of essential staff are in place to ensure the safety and well-being of the residents. This is about the health and safety or residents and not the right of employees to strike. That is why government took the action it did this week.

We understand that the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes’ last offer to the union was identical to the wage agreement that CUPE hospital workers accepted in 2017, ensuring wage parity for workers performing similar functions in nursing homes and hospitals.

An agreement can only be reached one way and that is at the negotiating table. That is why we are calling on both the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes and CUPE to put the health and safety of the nursing home residents first and return to the table.