As the House of Assembly opened for its fall sitting, interim Liberal leader Kelvin Parsons called on the province to finally agree to binding arbitration with the province’s doctors.
Parsons put his questions to newly minted Premier Kathy Dunderdale Monday.
“We’ve been asking that the doctors’ issue be sent to binding arbitration, as early as March 23 of last year, and the government has flatly refused this request,” he said.
Parsons noted doctors are willing to give up their right to strike if there is a legislative change which would send all future contract disputes between the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA) and the government to binding arbitration, once a certain period of time has elapsed without reaching a deal.
He also said the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the province’s firefighters already have similar rules in place.
But Dunderdale said the NLMA wants a vote on the province’s last contract offer to be completed before negotiations resume.
“What the doctors have asked us to do is to respect their ratification process, which we are absolutely happy to do. And we have created, I think, a very healthy environment for discussions,” she said.
But that answer didn’t satisfy Parsons.
“You’ve obviously switched gears when it comes to how you treat the doctors now, or at least the (health) minister seems to have had a personality transplant in that regard,” he said.
“But I ask you, premier, this simple question: Are you prepared to give the doctors of this province binding arbitration?”
Parsons went on to say that Finance Minister Tom Marshall and Health Minister Jerome Kennedy have “swallow(ed) themselves whole” on their positions over the last week.
“Everybody in this province knows by now and accepts that binding arbitration is the proper and the sensible solution to the resolution of this impending crisis. We have been saying it for months, the doctors have been saying it now for quite some time, and the people of the province are saying it through the media,” Parsons said.
But Dunderdale refused to commit to arbitration at this point.
Liberal Roland Butler also asked when government would resume negotiations in another labour dispute that has gone on for more than a year.
That case involves 15 job coaches who work with people with intellectual disabilities on the Burin Peninsula. The workers are represented by the Newfoundland and Labrador Union of Public and Private Employees.
Butler urged the government to resolve that dispute before Christmas.
“I am happy to report to the House of Assembly that our negotiators met this morning, and we’re working hard to resolve this issue as quickly as it is possible to do it,” Dunderdale replied.
Outside the House after question period, Dunderdale was asked if an upcoming leadership convention — and with a provincial election less than a year away — influenced the government to be more conciliatory with both groups.
“I think we have to be talking to one another, regardless of (either side’s) positions,” the premier said. “Nothing gets resolved if people are polarized in any kind of discussion or debate.”
Dunderdale said the first step in both disputes is to try and find some common ground.