Nfld. & Labrador

Make me an offer: NAPE launches new round of bargaining

The union representing most of the Newfoundland and Labrador public service will get a sense Monday of how serious Premier Danny Williams is about raising salaries.

The union representing most of the Newfoundland and Labrador public service will get a sense Monday of how serious Premier Danny Williams is about raising salaries.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) opened the first of a series of contract talks with Treasury Board officials on Monday, for the marine services bargaining unit.

About 160 workers belong to that unit, many of them staffing the province's ferry service.

On Monday afternoon, bargaining begins for the 800 members of the student assistant unit.

In all, NAPE represents about 15,000 public service workers.

During last fall's general election campaign, Williams said that public sector workers deserve a raise after numerous years of restraint. However, Williams has declined to speculate on what sort of increases the governing Progressive Conservatives have in mind.

NAPE president Carol Furlong has said the union will be seeking substantial increases.

The climate for the new round of bargaining is markedly different from that during the early months of the first PC government, when Williams launched a tough austerity program.

NAPE and the Canadian Union of Public Employees waged a bitter one-month strike in April 2004, but were legislated back to work with a package that included a wage freeze followed by minor salary increases.

The provincial government's finances, though, have changed. Buoyed by oil-based revenues, the government said last fall it is projecting to finish the current fiscal year with a surplus of $881 million.

NAPE requested the new round of bargaining last month.

In the weeks to come, other bargaining units — including hospital support staff, lab technicians and the general service — will head to the negotiating table.

At recent pre-budget consultation meetings, though, Finance Minister Tom Marshall said his chief priority is reducing the provincial debt.

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