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MONCTON - In his recent article on Moncton’s hospital workers’ strike (New Brunswick Offered a Fair Deal, Sept. 30), New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord left out one important fact – that he has rejected the recommendation of an independent, third-party conciliation board.

Almost every group that has had to negotiate a collective agreement since Mr. Lord became Premier has had to take a strike vote. Indeed, several have been forced to take strike action as a result of his government’s brinksmanship tactics. Labour relations have been soured for some time now.

Despite that, the unions have pledged to work within the system and follow the existing labour laws, and have asked the Premier to do the same. But while labour has committed itself to the established collective bargaining process Mr. Lord’s continued threats have severely undermined it.

After months of unproductive negotiations, an independent conciliation board was appointed to hear the submissions of each side and to make a recommendation. All of the arguments made in the Premier’s column were also made to the conciliation board by his negotiators. Meanwhile, the union presented submissions on all of its outstanding issues to the board.

Further, both sides presented extensive briefs on all of the economic trends, private sector settlements, and settlements by other groups within the New Brunswick public service.

After all this, the independent board made a recommendation to settle the matter. It proposed a contract with a general wage increase of 12% over four years, and recommended further negotiations for wage adjustments. But the Premier has rejected this solution.

How can the system have any credibility when the Premier rejects a third-party recommendation out of hand? Last fall, he spent tens of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars on advertising during the strike by jail guards, community college custodians and human service counsellors. The government ads demanded that the union be reasonable and accept an independent conciliation board report. His willingness to now contradict his own previous position has caused an unnecessary strike in our hospitals.

It is critical to keep in mind that the board recommendation was only half of what the Premier gave to hospital nurses. Their settlement was for a 24% increase over four years, which for them is a $13,600 increase.

The Premier’s unwillingness to listen is already well-established.

He failed to listen to the people on auto insurance. After months of hearings by an all-party legislative committee, he went against the wishes of New Brunswickers by rejecting their calls for public insurance.

He has failed to listen to the people in their calls to keep local hospitals and present services intact. His plan for health care takes us backwards, and will mean less service to local communities.

Now, he has failed to listen to an independent conciliation board that recommended a reasonable settlement. It is because of his rejection of a fair deal that there is now a strike.

When the Premier is prepared to act responsibly and accept the recommendations of the conciliation board, using it as the basis for negotiations, a settlement will be within reach.

Until that point, it will be clear that he wants the strike to continue.