The Alward government has ordered striking University of New Brunswick faculty and the administration back to the bargaining table.
Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Jody Carr made the announcement in Fredericton on Monday, Day 15 of the strike.
The government has appointed Brian Keller, a long-serving Canadian expert in labour relations, as a special, outside mediator. He will lead non-binding talks between the two sides on Wednesday and Thursday, Carr said.
There will be a media blackout during this step of the bargaining process, said Carr.
Finishing the term with the least amount of disruption is a priority, he said.
Asked whether the government will impose back-to-work legislation, Carr said that's a conversation for another day.
Keller has intervened in labour disputes involving Air Canada, Canada Post, municipalities and other universities.
He was selected from a list of people submitted by the university administration and faculty and will work in collaboration with a government-appointed mediator, said Carr.
About 550 full-time professors, teaching staff and librarians walked off the job on Jan. 13 over wages and working conditions.
The Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers is seeking an increase of more than 23 per cent over four years in order to bring salaries in line with those at Canadian universities of comparable size.
The university is offering a 9.5 per cent increase over the same period.
The AUNBT described Keller as a "well respected and experienced mediator," in an online statement issued on Monday.
He served as a part-time vice-chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board from 1988-2007 and a vice-chair of the Canada Labour Relations Board from 1983-88, the union said.
The university administration is also pleased about Keller's appointment, according to an online statement.
'We are hopeful that this appointment will lead to a fair, reasonable and expedited resolution to this labour dispute.' - UNB administration
"We welcome a new, and independent, review of each party's respective positions. We see this as a logical step toward getting our students back into class, which is our top priority," the statement said.
"We are hopeful that this appointment will lead to a fair, reasonable and expedited resolution to this labour dispute."
The UNB Student Union is also pleased.
“This dispute has gone on long enough," UNBSU president Ben Whitney said in a statement.
"Although we support the right to collective bargaining, it’s becoming increasingly evident that students are losing patience with both parties," he said, pointing to protests held at the Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton campuses last Friday. "The message to the AUNBT and UNB from students is clear: This must be resolved now.”
Students were out protesting across the province again on Monday morning, urging both sides to resume negotiations.
Jordan Sorenson, a fourth year engineering student, was among the small, but passionate group gathered at the Fredericton campus.
"It's hard to get students involved in this kind of passionate protest because there's fear of academic penalty or maybe a risk to their careers if they're outspoken or shown in this way," he said.
In Saint John, nursing students like Amanda Lynnfield, who are among the hardest hit by the strike, also took to the streets.
Fourth-year students in the program need clinical instruction to write their national licensing exam, said Lynnfield.
"We would like them to try to come together more on issues because right now it doesn't really seem like there's any give and you need to have that," she said.
"You can't just have both people saying, 'No, we can't do anything.' We're just stuck here right now. That's what it feels like to us anyway."
Another student demonstration is planned for Fredericton on Tuesday at 8 a.m. at the Student Union Building.