Province to appoint mediator in UPEI contract dispute

UPEI and its faculty association have been negotiating a new contract since April. (CBC - image credit)
UPEI and its faculty association have been negotiating a new contract since April. (CBC - image credit)

The P.E.I. government intends to appoint a mediator to help negotiate a new collective agreement between the University of Prince Edward Island and its faculty association.

Economic Growth Minister Bloyce Thompson informed the UPEI Faculty Association in a letter on Friday, noting that a conciliator was unable to solve the ongoing dispute.

"After consideration of the conciliation officer's report, and in a good faith attempt to assist the parties in reaching an agreement on their outstanding issues, I have, as Minister responsible for the administration of the Labour Act, made a decision to appoint a mediator pursuant to section 34 of the Labour Act," the letter reads.

Discussions between UPEI and the faculty association on a new contract began in April. The first conciliation meeting was held Sept. 28.

Thompson said he will appoint a mediator as quickly as possible.

According to the Labour Act, a mediator has 14 days from the time of appointment to file a report with the minister on the status of negotiations.

If the mediator is unable to bring about an agreement, both parties will enter a seven-day period after which they will be able to call for a strike vote or lockout.

Although the process is not often used, the province did appoint a mediator to assist the same parties in reaching an agreement in 2006 after the faculty went on strike.

"The role of the mediator, as a neutral third party, is to assist the parties in reaching an agreement," the province said in a statement Monday.

UPEI Faculty Association president Michael Arfken said the association expected conciliation to balance the need for government intervention against Islanders' constitutionally-protected right to withhold their labour as part of collective bargaining, which he said "clearly did not happen."

"Our hope was that having gone through the conciliation process and having made minimal progress, we would be able to go back to direct negotiations with our employer, but in this case be in a legal strike position. And for unions, being in a legal strike position is what equalizes the power between the workers and employers. So our hope was that being in that legal strike position, we were more likely to be able to reach a fair and reasonable agreement."

According to Arfken, more full-time faculty or smaller classes, as well as compensation to account for inflation, are among the unresolved issues.