Appointment of a conciliation board comes against a backdrop of unrest at the University of Moncton fuelled in part by unsuccessful contract negociations. [Photo: Patrice Benoit]
New Brunswick’s labour minister has prevented the University of Moncton’s academic staff from going on strike before the end of the term.
Ed Doherty refused to issue a “no board” report that would have put the university and the union in a legal strike-lockout position, after a provincial conciliator failed to help the two sides reach a settlement in their lengthy negotiations. Instead he ordered the appointment of a conciliation board to resolve the impasse — a rarely used process, and a first for the province’s post-secondary education sector.
By the time the conciliation board is appointed, hears arguments and submits its recommendations to the minister, the academic year at the university will be over. The union is prohibited from taking a strike vote until seven days after the minister forwards the board’s report to the parties.
“We have concerns about the minister’s actions,” Michèle Caron, president of the academic staff union, said in denouncing Doherty’s hard line approach to resolving the stalled contract talks.
“Formally, it’s not taking away our right to strike,” she said, “but in practice that is what it’s doing.”
CAUT executive director James Turk said the decision is in no one’s interests.
“The province’s mediator had found the parties too far apart to allow resolution of the dispute,” he said. “A board will have no better luck. In fact, it will make matters worse.
“Faculty members rightly perceive the province’s action as biased against them and will be less likely to compromise. The employer has no incentive to compromise as long as it knows the union can’t strike.”
Caron says the administration’s last offer made at the end of January isn’t enough to curb what she described as the deterioration of working conditions and programs at the university.
The union wants parity for its members with academic staff at the University of New Brunswick on wages, (promised to the union in the 2000 round of bargaining), a reduction in the maximum teaching course load, equity for limited-term appointees and language protecting the complement of academic staff.
The last contract between the university and 300-strong union expired in June 2007.