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N.L. Liberals on sidelines in D-J Composites lockout

Immigration Minister Al Hawkins.
Immigration Minister Al Hawkins. - SaltWire Network

NDP Leader Gerry Rogers calls for Labour minister to end labour dispute

Almost 16 months after it began, the lockout at D-J Composites in Gander drags on, with the government hesitant to step in to find a solution.

The Labour Relations Board found in a May 3, 2017 decision the company “breached its duty to negotiate in good faith,” according to a report from the board.

In another report released on April 13, the board found D-J Composites breached the Labour Relations Act, though the same report said a complaint of bias by a D-J Composites representative was unfounded. The complaint from the union was granted, however.

The matter was raised in the House of Assembly on Wednesday by newly minted NDP Leader Gerry Rogers.

Rogers says after 16 months and another ruling against the company by the Labour Relations Board, it’s time for the government to step in.

“How bad does it have to get, two years, three years, before government does what it is able to do in the current regulations?” Rogers asked.

“One way he can step in is to appoint a mediator. The unions feel that the mediator would be able to come to some kind of agreement within a few weeks. Either helping through the bargaining process or, if not, then at least pointing out what are the blocks and barriers to coming to a collective agreement.”

Labour Minister Al Hawkins says it’s not that easy.

“From a government perspective, it’s not something that governments usually get involved in. You have the collective bargaining process,” Hawkins said.

“From my perspective, as minister, I have to take a neutral position. I’m representing both employer and employee, so it becomes somewhat difficult to take that position, but it is what it is.”

Hawkins referred to the April 13 report, which states that the decision to enter binding arbitration has to come from both the union and the employer. So far, only the union has requested binding arbitration in an effort to resolve the extended dispute.

In the report, D-J Composites is said to oppose binding arbitration because the Labour Relations Board lacks the jurisdiction to impose the measure. Beyond that, the company says it’s not the appropriate answer right now.

The board notes that while the lockout has been going on for a long time, it is “unable to conclude that the parties have reached a point where no other remedy short of binding arbitration will possibly resolve their differences.”

For those reasons, the board declined to impose binding arbitration.

“We encourage both sides to get back to the table, to have discussions. I’ve been accused of not getting involved, and I have to the extent of the authority I have,” Hawkins said.

In September, a mediator was put in place by the government, but the recommendations of the mediation were non-binding, leaving the stalemate firmly in place.

Rogers said it’s just not good enough for Hawkins to remain on the sidelines.

“I have no idea why at this point, after 16 months, the minister of Labour is not stepping up and doing the right thing on behalf of these workers,” she said.

david.maher@thetelegram.com

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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