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Impasse reached, Unifor set to strike against Saskatchewan Crowns

WATCH ABOVE: Unifor set to strike against Saskatchewan Crowns.

An impasse has been reached in contract talks between Unifor and six Saskatchewan Crown corporations and an agency, setting the stage for a full-scale strike.

If a deal is not reached by the Thursday midnight deadline, nearly 5,000 unionized Saskatchewan Crown and agency employees will walk off the job starting at 7 a.m. Friday.

READ MORE: Sask. government responds to Unifor job action announcement

It’s the next stage in escalating job action by Unifor members.

A work-to-rule campaign started on Sept. 30, with members refusing to work overtime and disregarding any of the company’s performance targets.

Unifor, which represents workers at SaskTel, SaskPower, SaskEnergy, SecurTek, DirectWest, SaskWater and the Water Security Agency, said one the main sticking points is wages.

“All we are asking for are increases consistent with the rate of inflation,” Unifor president Jerry Dias said Thursday. “We proposed wage increases of two per cent per year.”

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“What we proposed is, frankly, less than what members of parliament gave themselves.”

Dias previously said wage increases need to be in line with what Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe received.

“We have chosen to highlight Premier Scott Moe as the face of MLA pay increases and the government zero per cent mandate,” Dias said in a posting.

READ MORE: Crown collective bargaining to continue over weekend as possible job action looms

MLAs in Saskatchewan received a 2.3 per cent wage increase in 2019, according to Unifor.

The premier said, over the course of the last five years, MLA’s have taken a 3.9 per cent increase.

“When you look at these tables collectively over that same five-year period [they] have experienced a 5.2 to 9.5 per cent increase,” Moe said.

“The MLA increase over the course of the last five years has been much less than these particular tables that we’re discussing.”

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer previously said there is no wage freeze.

“As publicly communicated by Unifor, the offer from employers to all seven tables amounts to five per cent over five years. This is not a wage freeze,” Harpauer said on Sept. 28.

Unifor said the offer is for zero per cent, zero per cent, one per cent, two per cent and in some cases and an additional year at two per cent over five years.

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“We feel this is a fair offer,” Moe said.

Dias said there has been no attempt at further contract talks since last week and called out the premier for causing the dispute.

“This is a stand-off and it’s something that frankly the corporations are powerless to fix,” Dias said.

“We are ready to bargain — but workers at every one of our Crowns deserves better than the (single) offer we’ve been given for months.”

Sask. government responds to Unifor job action announcement
Sask. government responds to Unifor job action announcement

Moe said the government respects the collective bargaining agreement and the right to strike.

“We don’t feel a general strike is in the best interests of the services being provided and the best interest of the Crown corporations — or the best interest of the people employed by the Crown corporations.”

Legislation is in place to ensure essential services are not affected by a strike, to protect the public from potentially dangerous situations.

“Nobody is going to be harmed as a result of this,” Dias said.

READ MORE: Plans in place to ensure services continue in case of SaskTel strike: gov’t

Some Crowns are already putting contingency plans in place in the event of a strike.

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In a statement, SaskTel said all stores will be closed throughout the labour disruption, and any changes to personal plans must be made online.

Business service requests can be made by visiting an authorized SaskTel dealer, or online.

SaskTel said it will not be able to activate any new home services or transfer services during the strike, and won’t be able to activate any new business services with the exception of wireless.