Post-Secondary Education Minister Jody Carr has ordered striking faculty and the administration of Mount Allison University to resume negotiations with the help of a special mediator.
“We're giving them another chance. And we're encouraging — strongly encouraging — both sides to take this opportunity for the two days this week to reach an agreement,” said Carr.
Carr appointed Larry Steinberg of Ontario to work with the parties. Negotiations through the special mediator are to resume on Wednesday and Thursday.
"This special appointment directs both parties to return to the bargaining table and highlights a new level of urgency to the process," said Carr.
Full-time faculty and librarians walked off the job in a legal strike on Jan. 27, bringing classes to a halt for 2,400 students.
The faculty and the administration are far apart on most issues. Each side said in three days of talks last week the other has been unwilling to compromise.
“They haven't significantly changed their bargaining position so it's a concern,” said Mount Allison Faculty Association President Loralea Michaelis.
“University has made some very significant changes to its proposals over the many weeks and months that we've been engaged in this process,” said Karen Grant, Mount Allison's vice-president of academics and research.
A media blackout has been imposed on the resumption of talks.
As a special mediator, Steinberg has the power to summon witnesses, give evidence under oath and produce documents for a full investigation.
The appointment of a mediator comes as the strike starts its third week. In a recent similar strike at the University of New Brunswick, Carr followed the same timeline and appointed Brian Keller as mediator on the first day of week three of that strike.
In the UNB strike, the parties reached a settlement later that week after working through the mediator for two days. The Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers and UNB's Board of Governors ratified the agreement last week.
To make up for time lost due to the UNB strike, the March break has been cancelled and the school year extended in April.
Steinberg is a mediator, arbitrator and a leading Canadian labour lawyer based in Toronto. He is the part-time vice-chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
“I understand that the mediator has a national proven track record of getting deals and that's what we're hoping to get as soon as we can,” said Michaelis.
“We hope that this process will be successful so that the students can get back into the classroom as soon as possible so that the term's not compromised,” said Grant.
The Mount Allison Faculty Association points to workload as a key issue in the dispute and says the administration needs to provide greater support to the university's core mission. The association also points to salaries, pensions and benefits as areas of contention.
On Friday, Mount Allison proposed to settle the contract through binding arbitration. However, that proposal was rejected by the faculty.
The faculty association countered suggesting settling the dispute with the help of a special mediator and provided the university with the names of five possible candidates.
The administration said Sunday it would consider mediation if the faculty agreed to return to work immediately while talks continue.