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As UNB strike continues, province orders both sides back to the table

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The University of New Brunswick and its professors are heading back to the negotiating table -- because the government is telling them to.

Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, Jody Carr, announced Monday that the provincial government is directing the university and its professors back to the negotiating table under a provision in the Industrial Relations Act. Both parties will be working with a special external mediator appointed by the province.

The mediator -- Brian Keller, an expert in labour law -- will be meeting with the parties on Wednesday and Thursday.

"This appointment obliges the parties to return to the table, and underscores the new level of urgency to the process," Carr said.

"This intervention demonstrates that the provincial government is actively trying to help the parties without interfering in, and respecting the collective bargaining process."

Carr didn't comment on what would happen if both parties don't reach an agreement after this week, but said back-to-work legislation would be a last resort.

"Our focus for this week is to give both parties an opportunity to find the solution at the table," he said. "As for next steps and into the next weeks, that will be for another day."

As for the situation with nursing students, Carr said they are hopeful nurses will be able to complete their clinical hours by the end of February to complete their program.

"We're still in that time frame and we’re hopeful as priority remains... that all students will not lose their term," Carr said.

"We're not certainly there yet. We're still hopeful that nurses will be able to complete their clinical hours, though time is certainly pressing on."

Mount Allison University’s faculty also went on strike Monday, making it two New Brunswick universities with a faculty strike. Carr said Mount Allison’s strike is being treated as a separate case.

"Each situation is unique. Certainly we will monitor the Mount Allison situation and provide support under the Industrial Relations Act," Carr said.

"We encourage for both parties to find the resolution for their situations and we’re hoping it will be with the most minimal impact for students."

UNB Student Union president Ben Whitney said the announcement was welcome news.

"Any way that we can get them back to the table to get a hopefully fairly negotiated collective agreement is good," Whitney said.

Though still worried for students, he said he supports anything that will get them back to class.

"I've been worried since day one about that," he said. "But at the end of the day our main goal is to get students back in class and any way we can do that is good."

UNBSU vice-president external Greg Bailey said he’s glad the government is stepping up to the plate.

"Right now for students, I guess it's nice to know that we’re not alone. Last week we got out and protested the fact both sides were not back at the table. So it's nice to know that government has our back."

Image: Cherise Letson

This article originally appeared in UNB's student newspaper, The Brunswickan

UPDATE: Faculty and Administration have reached a tentative agreement. For more on this story, click here.

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