SaskTel says striking workers cannot return to work Tuesday

Striking Unifor workers who planned to return to the job at SaskTel on Tuesday will not be allowed back without a new collective bargaining agreement, the Crown corporation said Monday.

Unifor members planned to work-to-rule, doing the bare minimum required

Workers were locking arms on Monday outside a SaskTel call centre in Regina. (Fiona Odlum/CBC)

Striking Unifor workers who planned to return to the job at SaskTel on Tuesday will not be allowed back without a new collective bargaining agreement.

The Crown corporation says it cannot provide adequate service to customers if employees walk out of the job on an intermittent basis.

"SaskTel is also considering applying for an injunction to stop Unifor's illegal labour disruption activities, such as preventing non-union employees from reporting to work," according to a statement from Michelle Englot, director of external communications for SaskTel.

"While Unifor members have the right to strike, non-unionized workers also have the right to get to work."

Union responds

Scott Doherty, the executive assistant to Unifor's national president and the lead negotiator on the file, said Monday night the union was disappointed but not surprised by SaskTel's move. 

"It certainly sets a clear path that, until there's a resolve to this labour dispute, we're not going to be going back to work, given the employer's decision to lock us out," he said. 

Doherty said workers will be back on the picket line Tuesday.

"We have a legal right to picket on their work sites," he said of the threatened injunction. 

The union had hoped to inconvenience the Crown by having the 500 or so SaskTel employees return to work. The employees would work-to-rule, doing the bare minimum required for the job, and would also only provide 24-hours notice for the next walk out. 

Not the same approach at every workplace

Dave Burdeniuk, director of government and media relations for SaskEnergy, says any unionized worker who shows up tomorrow will be put to work.

Neither SaskPower nor SaskWater will lock out returning employees. 

"[We] are confident we can manage our employees' return to work without compromising our operations or customer service," said SaskWater manager of corporate communications Courtney Mihalicz.

"They're not ready for us," said Chris MacDonald, Unifor's assistant president. "So tomorrow morning, we're all returning to work. And that will be a huge inconvenience to them because they're not ready."

Before the SaskTel announcement, MacDonald had said the employees will be working to rule and have to be paid if they return to work.

Some might disagree with the plan, MacDonald said, but people will be returning to their part-time schedules. 

Earlier Monday, about 500 SaskTel workers linked arms at the company's call centre on Henderson Drive in Regina in a bid to prevent company managers from covering for workers who have been on strike since Friday.

"We're here in solidarity," MacDonald said. "Here to show you that you never know where we'll show up tomorrow." 

Workers are striking outside the SaskTel call centre in Regina after first starting strike actions on Friday. (Fiona Odlum/CBC)

The strike affects 5,000 Crown corporation workers including SaskTel, SaskPower, SaskEnergy, SaskWater, the Water Security Agency and two SaskTel subsidiaries.

They walked off the job at 12:01 a.m. Friday morning after the province and the union were unable to come to an agreement before the strike deadline. 

The union has said its members need a two per cent increase per year to keep up with inflation. The union says the government has offered a deal that would include two years of zero per cent increases, followed by a one per cent increase, a two per cent increase and in some cases, another two per cent increase.

Provincial negotiators say they are ready to come back to the bargaining table, but the union says they haven't heard from the province in days.

MacDonald said the union also wants to return to the bargaining table.

"I think folks are feeling good today. They see that we're trying to do things to get the attention of government and other corporations, and ultimately that's what this is all about," MacDonald said. 

He said he hopes people don't cross the picket line. 

"Respect our picket line," MacDonald said. "The managers are generally excellent and supportive of our members, and understand the difficulty."

Around 500 employees are striking outside a call centre in Regina on Monday. (Fiona Odlum/CBC)

With files from Fiona Odlum, Heidi Atter and Alicia Bridges