Striking Saskatchewan crop insurance workers were back at the bargaining table Wednesday night with their employer, and are amenable to going back to work as soon as possible if there's "good progress and some type of arrangement" in the talks, the union said.
Local 2151 of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union sat down with management at the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp. starting at 8:30 p.m. CST in Regina.
'If we see that there's good progress and some type of arrangement, we'd like to settle this tonight and then we can direct our members to go back to work'—Union official Alan Evans
"If we see that there's good progress and some type of arrangement, we'd like to settle this tonight and then we can direct our members to go back to work," said Alan Evans, chair of the employees' bargaining committee.
Evans said the crop insurance employees will be asking for the same deal they've sought all along, a 7.75 per cent pay hike over three years. The government has offered 5.5 per cent.
The push to settle the labour dispute follows Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall's stern warning to the union on Wednesday to get back to work, or else.
More than 400 Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp. workers represented walked off the job Tuesday to underline their contract demands.
The strike comes at a time when many farmers are struggling to put a crop in the field, particularly in the flood-ravaged southeast.
In a letter to SGEU president Bob Bymoen that was released to the media, Wall called the decision to go on strike at this time "deplorable" and "appalling."
"The union leadership needs to reverse this decision," Wall told reporters at the legislature Wednesday. "They need to do the right thing and call off this strike."
Wall vowed the government will "take action" if that doesn't happen in 24 hours, but didn't say what kind of action he would take. Asked in a CBC interview if the government would order the employees back to work, Wall said he wouldn't answer that for the time being.
So far this season farmers have filed 5,300 claims for unseeded acres and thousands more are expected. To date, 92 of those applications have been processed.
It's not the first clash between the Saskatchewan Party government and unions.
Labour groups were furious when the government passed essential services legislation, which places limits on how many government workers and health care workers can go on strike.
Wednesday's letter was arguably the harshest criticism Wall has made against a union in the middle of a contract dispute.
SGEU says it has been forced to take a stand to get a fair deal from the government.
In an earlier statement on Wednesday, the union said striking crop insurance workers in Estevan and Weyburn were volunteering to assist in local flood relief efforts.
"We are part of these communities, and, with extreme weather conditions threatening homes and livelihoods, we want to lend a hand where we can," Evans said in the news release.