Premier Blaine Higgs said Sunday that a tentative agreement reached with nearly 20,000 striking public sector workers is fair to employees and taxpayers.
Higgs did not release any details of the deal on Sunday, pending the results of a vote approved by members of the Canadian Public Employees Coalition expected later this week. The deal was reached on Saturday after two days of talks.
The 16-day, provincial walkout featured workers in community colleges, education, health, transportation and infrastructure.
“Both sides were able to work creatively and patiently in the best interests of the New Brunswickers, and balance competing was needed to reach a reasonable agreement,” Higgs said.
All services affected by the strike, including the province’s public schools, which are due to open Monday, are running “as soon as possible,” he said.
Schools have shifted to online learning, as there are bus drivers, custodians and academic assistants among employees who quit.
“I know the last two weeks have been a challenge for families and many teachers, parents and students are more than ready to go back to the classroom,” Higgs said.
Community college students will be able to return to campus training by Tuesday, the prime minister said.
Higgs said the government’s back-to-work order, which was issued on November 5 for striking health care workers, was canceled, leading to a scheduled Monday union court requesting an unnecessary suspension of the emergency order.
He said he was optimistic the union would accept the deal, but warned that the five-year agreement would expire in the coming months for many bargaining units because it would take time to reach a deal for previously held contracts.
Higgs said the negotiations would shift from “financial settlements only” to finding innovative solutions to some of the challenges facing the sector, such as health care.
“We have the right deal right now, but we need to focus on innovation and changes in our workplace and our work habits,” he said.
Meanwhile, all picket lines have dropped and all workers are in the process of returning to work, the union said on Sunday.
CUPE spokesman Simon Ouellette called the deal a “victory” for the union. He said the wage deal, which was intended to address one of CUPE’s major bargaining demands, was satisfactory to some and not sufficient for others.
“We have to remember what the Prime Minister was saying a year ago, the entire public sector was getting zeros and frontline workers were getting a (wage) freeze,” he said. “There’s something much better for us. I feel good about this.”
A statement released by the union on Saturday said the proposed wage package would be voted on by seven CUPE locals, while the other two had reached a proposed memorandum of agreement regarding pension plans.
The agreement looks at the salary proposal given to three other locals who represent employees of community colleges and WorkSafeNB.
A temporary contract is also being finalized for NB Liquor Workers, which is on legal strike by Tuesday.
“We hope to have voting in each locality in a relatively tight time frame,” said Ouellette. “Ideally they’ll start tomorrow (Monday).”
November 14, 2021.
– by Keith Doucet in Halifax