Sask. Premier says he will appoint special mediator for refinery lockout, NDP Leader Singh visits picket line

Talks between the two sides broke down on Friday night and Unifor re-established barricades at the Regina refinery.

Talks between the two sides broke down on Friday night

Locked out since early December, refinery workers will vote on what the company says is their "final offer" (Ethan Williams/CBC)

Premier Scott Moe said he will appoint a special mediator to help with the dispute between Unifor and the Co-op Refinery Complex if Unifor takes down the barricades it has set up at the Regina refinery. 

"By removing the barricades and accepting the assistance of a special mediator in the negotiations, I believe both parties will be well served," Moe said during a speech to delegates of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association in Regina on Monday. 

Moe said if his proposal is rejected, then he expects the Regina Police Service will enforce the court order calling for the removal of barricades set up by the union at the refinery..

"Lawful labour dispute has degenerated into where people are breaking the law," Moe said. 

Premier Scott Moe spoke to reporters following a speech at the SUMA Conference in Regina on Feb. 3, 2020. (Declan Finn/CBC)

Unifor members have been locked out of the Co-op Refinery Complex since early December. The union issued a 48-hour strike notice on Dec. 3, and were locked out on Dec. 5. 

The two sides were back to the bargaining table on Friday, with the union taking down barricades from around the Co-op Refinery Complex. However, talks broke down Friday night and the union replaced the barricades. 

Scott Doherty and Jagmeet Singh stood together on the picket line at a news conference on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (Charles Lalande/CBC)

Scott Doherty, executive assistant to the president of Unifor, said Monday afternoon that he would have liked to talk to Moe before Moe announced he would appoint a special mediator. Doherty said he has no idea what the conditions of the special appointed mediator are.

"He announces it to a bunch of business people that again shows that disrespect that this government has for workers across the country," Doherty said. "We welcome the fact that he's finally woken up and decided he wants to do something about this dispute."

Federal NDP Leader weighs in on dispute

The leader of the federal New Democratic Party weighed in on the labour dispute in Regina Monday.

Jagmeet Singh visited the picket line at the Co-op Refinery Complex. In a release, the party leader said he was there to stand in support of workers. 

"People have the right to work hard and to retire with dignity," Singh said. 

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh visited picketers at the Co-op refinery in Regina Monday. (Charles Lalande/CBC)

Singh said one of the main issues in the dispute is the use of replacement workers. He said the NDP is tabling federal legislation that would ban replacement workers during disputes. 

The refinery dispute mainly boils down to proposed changes to pensions. The Co-op Refinery Complex previously said it wants to move its workers to a defined contribution plan, instead of the current defined benefits plan. 

Refinery says barricades will lead to fuel shortages at Co-ops

On Monday, Federated Co-operatives Ltd. CEO Scott Banda said he wished the two sides were back to the table working their way to a deal. 

"I'm not here to bargain in the media or in the public but it is very disappointing that Unifor committed only 13 hours to discussing the many complex issues," Banda said. 

Scott Banda is the CEO of the Federated Co-operatives Limited. (Karel Houde-Hebert/CBC)

Scott Doherty said Unifor introduced a proposal that included Unifor members paying into the pensions.

Doherty said refinery management told him they had no interest in Unifor's proposal and came back with its own proposal that would see the workers paying more, along with other changes. 

Banda said the refinery was willing to bargain throughout the weekend. Doherty said Unifor was also willing to continue over the weekend as well. 

"Bargaining can't happen while one party is breaking the law and defying court orders and it won't happen when one party has illegally shut down a business with rows of fences pallets and vehicles," Banda said on Monday. "How can we have meaningful discussions when our business is being held hostage?"

Banda said there will be fuel shortages in Saskatchewan and southern Alberta if the barricades continue. 

"I'd like to see the court order that says that it's illegal that Unifor National can't have a picket line," Doherty said. 

Both sides say they are ready to restart bargaining at any time. 

With files from Adam Hunter


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