With over thirty collective agreements in play this year, New Brunswickers may be in for a long period of labour unrest. The Higgs government’s paltry wage mandate coupled with a “my way or the highway” approach to contract negations risk setting-off strikes in a number of public service sectors. As recently as last week, CUPE Local 1251 announced it had filed a notice of deadlock in its negotiations with the government. The local represents 800 professional front line workers including correctional officers, human service councillors and custodial workers.
“The recent action by CUPE Local 1251 is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Robert McKee, MLA for Moncton Centre and Official Opposition Critic for Finance and Treasury Board. “These and thousands of other workers who have been at the front lines during the pandemic deserve better than a three percent increase over four years – frankly that offer is a slap in the face. And to add insult to injury many frontline workers stepped-up putting themselves and their families at risk without a contract at all. They are certainly acting in “good faith” – I’m not sure the Higgs government is.”
Thousands of New Brunswickers working in education, health care, public safety, social work, highway construction and maintenance, the court system and agriculture are currently without a contract with the provincial government. Some bargaining units have not had a contract since 2017.
“The state of the relationship between the unions representing our most valued and essential workers and this government is deplorable,” added McKee. “When you also add in the fact that most of these workers have the lowest wages in Canada to start with – we have a recipe for labour unrest. The Higgs government needs to listen to the unions, actually hear what they say, and act soon to correct this.”
Roger Melanson, MLA for Dieppe and leader of the Official Opposition also noted particular concern with the status of nursing professionals.
“There is a crisis in the nursing sector – both regional health authorities are unable to recruit and retain nursing professionals,” said Melanson. “The wages and working conditions for these health professionals, even prior to the pandemic, are deplorable and we are hearing directly from nurses and LPN’s that levels of burnout are deeply troubling. The New Brunswick Nurses Union has been without a contract since 2018 and the union representing LPN’s, since 2019. The Higgs government promised a medical human resources strategy by December 2019 – we are all still waiting.”