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N.B. Premier Blaine Higgs says ‘likely in for a long haul’ on public sector strike

Click to play video: 'N.B. premier calls offer to CUPE employees ‘really good deal’'
N.B. premier calls offer to CUPE employees ‘really good deal’
WATCH: Premier Blaine Higgs is drawing a line in the sand in the CUPE labour dispute. The sticking point is over moving two union locals to a new pension model. Nathalie Sturgeon reports. – Nov 8, 2021

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs is showing no signs of bending on his government’s latest contract offer to striking public sector workers.

The strike by thousands of public servants, including school bus drivers, educational support staff and workers in transportation, corrections and the community college system, entered Day 11 on Monday.

The two sides are close on the issue of wages, with the government offering 10 per cent over five years and a 25-cent-per-hour annual increase, but the province is also proposing contentious pension changes for two locals.

The premier says the two locals’ pension plans are underfunded and unsustainable, adding that if the union won’t budge on the pension issue, then “we’re likely in for a long haul here.”

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The union earlier rejected the proposed pension changes, and CUPE New Brunswick representatives were not immediately available for comment Monday.

On Friday, the government issued an emergency order forcing striking workers in the health-care sector to return to work, threatening fines up to $20,400 per day for employees who refuse to comply.

CUPE filed an emergency complaint about the order to the province’s Labour and Employment Board, but the complaint was dismissed by the board in a ruling filed Sunday. In its complaint, CUPE had alleged that the province was attempting to “compel, by intimidation and threat,” employees to “refrain from exercising their right to strike.”

Click to play video: 'CUPE seeks clarity around mandatory order'
CUPE seeks clarity around mandatory order

The board said it was not satisfied “on the basis of the the evidence led” that there was a violation of the Public Service Labour Relations Act.

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The government has also locked out members of two locals that represent school staff, and schools across the province have moved to remote learning as a result.

Higgs says the union must agree to let the two locals in question enter a process to determine a new model for their pensions. Taxpayers, he said, can’t continue to pay into a model “that has proven to have outlived its liabilities.”

“People now live longer and are retired longer than the pension formula was ever designed for. We have people retired for longer than they have worked in many cases.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2021.

— with a file from Rebecca Lau 

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