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Labour dispute continues after Co-op Refinery rejects special mediator’s recommendations

Federated Co-operatives Limited CEO Scott Banda speaks about the Co-op Refinery labour dispute during a press conference in Regina on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020.
Federated Co-operatives Limited CEO Scott Banda speaks about the Co-op Refinery labour dispute during a press conference in Regina on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. Michael Bell / The Canadian Press

Federated Co-operatives Ltd. (FCL), which owns the Co-op Refinery, has rejected recommendations made by the province’s special mediator in relation to the refinery lockout.

The recommendations were put forward on March 19 and were accepted by Unifor Local 594 bargaining committee.

However, on Sunday, Co-op said they are unable to accept “all aspects” of independent mediator Vince Ready’s recommendations. They did not disclose which recommendations they were unwilling to accept.

READ MORE: Unifor accepts recommendations from mediator in Co-op lockout

The company said in a statement they will need to “make modifications out of our responsibility to our employees, our co-op owners, our customers and the broader communities that depend on the long-term sustainability of CRC.”

Co-op said they are facing a “drastic decline in the consumer consumption of fuel and rapidly declining oil prices that” that have put the company in a difficult financial position since the spread of coronavirus has affected the global market.

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It says they are reassessing how they will manage through this financial turmoil.

“As a company, we must consider how to reduce costs, delay capital spending, protect jobs and make decisions around cancelling projects that are no longer viable,” said FCL in a statement.

“As negotiations proceed, CRC will ultimately need to make decisions that are responsible and responsive not only to its employees but also to our local co-op owners, customers and the broader communities across Western Canada.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Co-op Refinery continues operations with replacement workers

Unifor, who was hoping the recommendations would end the 108-day lockout, said they are “shocked” by Co-op’s rejection.

“FCL CEO Scott Banda’s tactics get more disgusting by the hour,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National president, in a statement. “Western Canada needs a secure fuel supply and the skilled operation of the Regina refinery. Instead, Scott Banda wants to use a public health crisis as bargaining leverage on his own employees.”

Ready was appointed by Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe in February as a way to find a solution to the lockout which put nearly 700 refinery employees out of work.

READ MORE: Regina councillor wants to call on province for binding arbitration to end refinery labour dispute

According to Unifor, the recommendations including changes to the refinery workers’ pension plan, and would have put millions of dollars back into Co-op coffers with workers contributing up to eight per cent on their pensions.

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“Refinery workers entered Premier Moe’s mediation process in good faith, only to be slapped in the face again with the underhanded approach from the company,” said Kevin Bittman, Unifor Local 594 president in a statement.

“The evidence is now staring the Premier in the face: Co-op has never wanted a fair deal. There is only one option left, and that is legislation to end this shameful lockout,” said Dias, who will be making a formal request to the provincial government to intervene.