Doctors in Newfoundland and Labrador say an unkept promise may stall negotiations with the provincial government for a new contract.

In their last agreement, reached in late 2010, the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association won the right to binding arbitration should negotiations ever fail. In return, doctors surrendered the right to strike.

But exactly how binding arbitration will work has yet to be hammered out, even though the issue was supposed to have been settled last year.

"We think that starting negotiations without this being settled is not a good idea," said Dr. Yordan Karaivanov, the NLMA's president.

Karaivanov urged the provincial government to settle the issue.

"We think that what needs to be solved is just a technical issue — what are the terms of reference? Let's solve that and start negotiations."

Change in tack

There appears to be a shift in position from the provincial government. In 2010, when he was the minister of finance, Premier Tom Marshall said the government would not give control of the public purse to arbitrators.

But speaking with reporters on Thursday, Marshall took a different stance.

"We obviously have to come to an agreement with doctors on the wording of the terms of reference of binding arbitration," he said.

"We agreed to do that and it will happen."

The government is meeting with doctors in two weeks. Binding arbitration is one of the topics on the agenda.