Nfld. strikers to protest back-to-work order

About 10,000 striking civil servants in Newfoundland to protest back-to-work legislation in front of legislative building Monday

A weekend snowstorm that hit most of Newfoundland may reduce the number of civil servants expected to protest back-to-work legislation which will end the province's 25-day strike.

Union leaders expect about 10,000 people to show up Monday outside the Confederation building. But they won't sway Premier Danny Williams from imposing a settlement on the 20,000 striking health, education and government workers.

If striking workers disobey back-to-work orders, they could face fines or be fired.

On Thursday, Williams told reporters the legislation will be based on the government's last four-year offer to the unions. It includes a two-year wage freeze to be followed by increases of two per cent in the third year and three per cent in the fourth.

The bill also will reduce the number of sick days for new employees from 24 a year to 12. Current employees would not see a reduction.

On Saturday, the province's health care managers admitted that the strike had taken its toll on them. Managers have been working 12 or 16-hour shifts for days without a break, said John Peddle, executive director of the province's Health Boards Association.

"We raised grave concerns on our ability to keep going," he told CBC Newsworld. "Yes, we're coping, but the system is only providing essential services, and the association only planned for a 14-day strike."

Peddle said the strike is hurting patients because some won't cross the picket lines, and others have had serious surgery delayed. Those people are "like ticking time bombs" because they could end up in emergency rooms.

An early end to the strike will also be welcomed by managers responsible for clearing roads. Up to 40 centimetres of snow was dumped in parts of the province Sunday causing the closure of the Trans-Canada Highway west of St. John's.

A spokesperson for the premier said some striking snow plow drivers, who are considered essential employees, could be asked to return to work. Department managers may also be asked to drive the vehicles.