The Blaine Higgs government has introduced a controversial bill revolving how police and fire union contracts are arrived at when negotiations with respective municipalities fail.
Proposed amendments to the Industrial Relations Act would see binding arbitration consider a municipality’s ability to pay when determining a settlement.
Police and fire cannot strike in New Brunswick or be locked out by their employer. Union representatives say the proposed changes are unconstitutional and they were blindsided by the announcement.
“They’re trying to load the deck so they can pay what they want,” said Bob Davidson of the Saint John Police Association. “It’s not about ability to pay, it’s about what they want to pay. So this will result in this government, if it goes forward, another constitutional challenge like they got with the nursing home situation.” A New Brunswick judge has ruled the law that makes nursing home workers an essential service, is unconstitutional.
Miramichi Mayor Adam Lordon says there is a clear difference of opinion between the municipalities and the unions.
“We hope we can have a civilized and fact-based discourse now that will play out at the committee level, we would expect,” said Lordon. “Certainly our position as municipalities across this province is that the criteria is not fair and balanced”
Labour Minister Trevor Holder says municipalities have observed wage settlements through the current binding arbitration process, resulting in higher awards than through collective bargaining.
Holder says the issue is not being rammed through and will include public consultation.
“This is an opportunity for all of us as New Brunswickers to have an open, honest and respectful debate on this issue where municipalities (and) labour leaders can come and the general public can come and make presentations before this committee.”
The matter is expected to be referred to the Law Amendments committee with hearings possibly in January or February.