HALIFAX - The government of Nova Scotia and the union representing about 3,000 rural school support workers took it down to the wire Sunday, announcing a tentative contract deal just hours before a planned strike deadline.
"The union is recommending acceptance of the deal," said John McCracken, a spokesman for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
"From our standpoint all of our employees will be reporting to work in the morning," he said, waving off a planned walkout for 6 a.m. Monday.
McCracken said school bus drivers, custodians and teachers' assistants outside of Halifax would get to vote on the package "as soon as possible."
He could not comment on the other half of the labour equation - ongoing talks between government and about 4,000 health care workers, CUPE members who were staring down the same strike deadline.
"All I can tell you is they are continuing under a news blackout," McCracken said of negotiations that resumed on Friday.
Deputy premier Frank Corbett said he was happy with the school worker outcome and remained hopeful that talks with health-care workers could come to the same conclusion.
"I'm glad they're still talking," said Corbett late Sunday.
"You can't read too much into the deal we've got. But, it certainly makes me feel better knowing that we've got one down and the parameters for an agreement are set."
Neither McCracken or Corbett would disclose any of the details of the deal with school workers saying the membership had to be briefed first.
Conservative leader Karen Casey said she was pleased with the school settlement but remained concerned about the implications of a possible strike by health-care workers.
"I am reiterating our position that the NDP government led by Premier Darrell Dexter, must ensure the safety of patients in Nova Scotia by averting a strike," she said in a release.
The uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the talks has forced administrators at 33 health-care facilities outside the Halifax region to implement contingency plans.
They included the reduction of services and closure of some emergency rooms at smaller hospitals and the cancellation of some elective surgeries.
As a result, The Capital District Health Authority which is Nova Scotia's largest, was also hit by the ripple effect of a potential strike despite not being involved in the labour dispute.
Health officials at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre were forced to cancel about 32 surgeries in anticipation of receiving patients diverted from areas hit by a strike.
Heading into the weekend the union had been looking for a three-year deal with a 2.9 per cent wage hike each year.
The province had offered a four-year contract with a 2.9 per cent wage increase in the first two years and a one per cent increase for each of the remaining two years.
Results of the negotiations are important because they will form the template for other public sector unions to follow.
The work for the seven-month-old NDP government is only just beginning with the contracts for some 25,000 government workers set for renewal over the next six months.
The majority of those employees are represented by the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, the province's largest public sector union.
Last fall the government settled a contract with 900 community college workers, also after last-minute talks.
College teachers and other employees held out for and received a 2.9 per cent wage hike retroactive to Sept. 1, 2008 and one per cent in 2009-10 and 2010-11.