UNB strike

The UNB Law Students' Society says provincial government intervention within university labour disputes is not without precedent.

The University of New Brunswick's Law Students' Society is calling on the provincial government to intervene in the faculty strike, now into its second week.

Meanwhile, the student unions are urging the university administration and the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers to return to the bargaining table.

Student-led demonstrations are planned for the Fredericton, Saint John, Moncton and Bathurst campuses in the coming days.

The demonstrations are not in support of either side, but rather in support of the students themselves, they say.

The Law Students' Society says the government could work with both sides to explore alternatives, such as binding arbitration or a third party mediator.

There are also options available through legislation, such as the Industrial Relations Act, a letter sent to Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Jody Carr on Thursday suggests.

"We urge you to take action without delay, before long-term prospects of students are seriously affected," the letter, supported by the UNB Student Union, the UNBSJ-SRC and UNBSU Council representatives in several faculties, states.

"The time to act is now."

About 550 full-time professors, teaching staff and librarians at UNB's campuses in Fredericton, Saint John, Moncton and Bathurst walked off the job on Jan. 13.

They're 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.

'While it is important that the collective bargaining process and rights of the parties be respected, it is clear that the parties are in a deadlock.' - UNB Law Students' Society

The University of New Brunswick is offering a 9.5 per cent increase over the same period.

"While it is important that the collective bargaining process and rights of the parties be respected, it is clear that the parties are in a deadlock," the letter, signed by UNB Law Students' Society president Will Russell states.

The strike is affecting nearly 10,000 students, many of whom are faced with significant personal, educational, social, and financial concerns if the strike is permitted to continue, he says.

"Students make financial sacrifices to attend university, and will have difficulty arranging for summer employment and housing if classes are extended past the scheduled end date of April 8."

Graduating students in programs, such as nursing, law and engineering, are hardest hit, the group suggests. They must meet time-sensitive academic prerequisites in order to be admitted to provincial regulatory colleges and associations, the society says.

Other provincial governments have intervened in labour disputes, says Russell, citing Manitoba as an example. That government used its statutory authority to order the union to vote on the employer's most recent offer and the parties subsequently reached a tentative agreement, avoiding a strike, he says.

The Ontario government also ended the strike and lockout at York University through legislation that required the parties to resume negotiations, said Russell.

Nursing students, communities to suffer

UNB nursing students are also speaking out on the strike.

"If job action continues past this week, the UNB BN students’ education will be at risk," Laura Carr, the UNB Student Union Nursing Representative in Fredericton said in an emailed statement.

Bachelor of Nursing students are unable to complete their required clinical hours and fourth-year nursing students are close to losing their ability to write their national exam to become Registered Nurses on June 4, said Carr.

The next opportunity to write the exam is Oct. 5, which delays their entry into the workforce and their ability to start repaying student loans, she said.

"This not only affects us, the nursing students, but the community at large who will not be able to use our valuable skills and services if our education is delayed," said Carr, citing the schools, hospitals, First Nations communities and long-term facilities that rely on students to provide health care during their clinical rotations.

The Bathurst nursing students are planning to hold a demonstration at the local campus on Jan. 29.

"We hope these peaceful student demonstrations will motivate both parties involved in the strike to get back to the negotiation table, and get back to work," fourth-year student Meaghan Waugh said in an email to CBC News.

"We are not pawns, and we are not human sacrifices to be used as leverage during a strike. We are the province's future, and we deserve better," she said.