The finance minister calls it a pause, while CUPE calls it an impasse — either way, collective bargaining talks between the government and the 4,000-member union have ground to a halt 2 1/2 years after they began.
Talks broke off Thursday, with no guarantee they will resume.
The dispute centres around a no-layoff clause for the Canadian Union of Public Employees — similar to the one included in the NAPE contract, which has since been ratified. The Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees’ agreement sees no layoffs for the purpose of addressing deficits for the duration of the agreement, but does allow the typical seasonal layoffs already seen.
Finance Minister Tom Osborne has repeatedly said the no-layoff clause will not extend to future NAPE agreements.
Both the government and CUPE want the no-layoff clause, and agree it should end when the next collective agreement expiries. It is additional language tied to the no-layoff clause, apparently added by the government, that CUPE doesn’t agree with.
However, because negotiations are ongoing, neither Osborne nor CUPE chief negotiator Brian Farewell will say what exactly is in dispute.
“They have brought in additional language with encroaches into our collective agreement that we cannot tolerate, we can’t accept. It’s a no-brainer for us,” said Farewell.
“We actually have gone to them twice with a sidebar letter … to alleviate their concerns about the sunset clause in that no-layoff. It is crystal clear already that it’s for the duration of this collective agreement. We’ve tried to appease them, but as of late yesterday afternoon, they came back with the language we cannot accept.”
Farewell, who will retire in three months, says he is hopeful both sides can return to the table before then, but it’s going to be hard unless the government changes the language.
However, Osborne says there is no additional language in dispute. In a statement issued late Thursday, he says the language between NAPE and CUPE is exactly the same.
“We believe our current proposal strikes the balance between respecting the important work of our public service and the need to address our fiscal situation,” reads the statement.
“It would be inappropriate at this time to speak about specific terms while negotiations are ongoing, however, government has proposed the exact same language in writing to CUPE that has been agreed upon by NAPE.”
The last time CUPE hit the picket lines in this province was 2004, when a joint strike with NAPE saw more than 20,000 workers go on strike.