The provincial Labour Relations Board has told the City of Saskatoon to hold off on making changes to its pension plan, while transit workers are locked out. The board turned down a request by workers to declare the lockout illegal.

Issues relating to the lockout were argued Friday morning by representatives of the city and the Amalgamated Transit Union, local 615.

The board issued an order, Friday afternoon, to the city to halt implementation of pension plan changes. On the issue of the lockout itself, the board said the union could return to the board, in one week, if it wanted to apply again to have the lockout declared illegal.

Impact not clear

The implications of the board's decision were not immediately clear, even to lawyers involved in the matter. The lawyer for the city was asked about the board's order regarding pension plan changes but Patricia Warwick said she was unsure what happens now.

"Don't know the status of that," Warwick said. "And that is why I was asking, you heard me asking, the board for some further direction on that."

Later on Friday afternoon, after Warwick made her comments, the City of Saskatoon issued a statement saying it believes the Labour Board's order regarding the pension plan is effective as of 2:30 p.m. CST Sept. 26.

The statement noted city council approved pension plan changes four days earlier, at a Monday afternoon meeting.

The statement said the city would not make "further changes" to, in its view, comply with the order of the board.

Gary Bainbridge, the union's lawyer, noted Friday afternoon it may be that both sides will have to wait until the Labour Board has a closer look at the issue to see if previous changes made by the city will stand.

"We will have to await the full hearing ... in order to determine if they need to unwind what they've already done," Bainbridge said. "But the board, so far, won't make that decision."

City officials also invited the union to return to the bargaining table.

CBC News contacted the ATU leadership, who said there was no point in meeting because the city was not making any changes to its offer to workers.

Case arguments made Friday morning

Among the arguments submitted to the board, the ATU said the city was wrong to lock out workers Saturday because the union already had an unfair labour practice complaint against the city before the LRB.

The union argued a lockout can't happen while a decision from the LRB on a complaint application is pending. The two sides in the dispute are at odds over wages and changes to the pension plan.

Bainbridge, the ATU's lawyer, told the LRB that the lockout is illegal because of a "no lockout clause" included in the Saskatchewan Employment Act when a complaint application is pending. 

He argued that harm done to the union and workers is greater than that done to the city and the "illegal lockout" is destroying labour relations. 

"This whole thing seems to be a carefully and tightly scripted attempt to change the pension plan," he said. 

Bainbridge said the public may not differentiate between a lockout and strike, therefore monetary damage is done to workers and reputational damage to transit. 

Warwick, the city's lawyer, argued the ATU's case sprang from the union's lack of will to actually sit down at the bargaining table and find a resolution. 

Warwick said the unfair labour practice complaint has "zero connection" to the matter at hand, coming to a collective agreement. 

She said the lockout clause is meant to be used as a shield, not a sword and asked the LRB to consider the facts and goals of Saskatchewan employment law.