HALIFAX - A council of four Nova Scotia health-care unions says its members have overwhelmingly voted to ratify an agreement with the Nova Scotia Health Authority and IWK Health Centre.

The unions say 92 per cent of members who voted are in favour of the agreement, which includes a final and binding mediation-arbitration process to resolve outstanding issues not addressed through collective bargaining.

They say it provides wage increases over a six year term from 2014 to 2020, and protects key benefits.

The province says the agreement also protects a service award payout, while the unions and employers have agreed there will be no strike action or lockout of employees.

William Kaplan is the mediator-arbitrator appointed to oversee the process that must be completed by all four labour councils by the end of this year, unless all parties agree to an extension — the new collective agreements will expire in late 2020.

The Nova Scotia Council of Health Care Unions, which represents non-nursing professions such as physiotherapists, pharmacists, social workers and psychologists, will be the first to go through mediation-arbitration July 30 to Aug. 3, with a target date for an agreement of Sept. 1.

"This agreement will bring more stability to our health care system, avoid the disruption that a strike would cause for patients, their families and health care workers and it will resolve outstanding issues in a timely way," said Mark Furey, Minister of Labour Relations.

Other councils that must conclude mediation-arbitration, if needed, by the end of 2018 are the Council of Health Administrative Professional Unions, the Council of Health Support Unions and the Council of Nursing Unions.

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