New Brunswick Public Sector Workers Ratify Tentative Agreement

Congratulations for the Defence of Workers' Rights and the Rights of All!

At a November 19 press conference, the Canadian Union of Public Employees-New Brunswick (CUPE NB) announced the results of the vote on the tentative agreement reached between the union and the provincial government. CUPE NB President Steve Drost informed everyone that ten of the eleven locals represented by the union's centralized bargaining team in the dispute with the government have ratified the tentative agreement. 

Workers of Local 1253, which represents education workers such as school bus drivers, custodians and others, rejected the agreement because they want more comprehensive protection of their pension plan than contained in the memorandum of understanding signed between the union and the government in this negotiation. The government is trying to turn their defined benefit pension plan into a so-called shared risk plan where workers could suffer cuts in their pension benefits if the plan is declared underfunded. The spokesperson of the local noted that although workers support the wage agreement, they want more certainty about their pensions. They want to go back to the bargaining table with the government and CUPE NB has committed to supporting them in their efforts.

The Wage Agreement

Steve Drost, on behalf of CUPE NB, presented the wage agreement that is now part of the collective agreement. Workers are to receive a wage increase of two per cent yearly for a five year contract, in addition to an annual hourly increase of $0.25. This represents an approximate three per cent increase per year. The $0.25 has a different impact on workers, depending on their wage level. For the lowest paid, who are numerous in the union as well as in the province's public sector as a whole, this translates into an overall increase of around 17 per cent over five years, while for workers at the top of the wage scale, the overall increase is just over 14 per cent. The increases are retroactive to when the contracts expired, some two or three years ago.

Over the past 15 years or so, successive governments in the province have imposed wage freezes combined with one per cent yearly increases, far below the increase in the cost of living. This buying of the capacity to work of public sector workers at a very low price has impoverished workers and exacerbated the problem of attracting and retaining those who deliver public services and deterring the migration of workers out of the province. It has left more money in government coffers for its pay-the-rich schemes.

In addition, the agreement provides that casual workers will now be paid the same hourly wage as regular workers doing the same work. According to the union, until now, by government decision, they were paid only around 80 per cent of the hourly wage of regular workers. This correction means that the wage increase for casuals will be about 30 per cent.

According to the union, the achievement of these wage increases is the culmination of a 15-year campaign by public sector workers to break the government's wage freeze mandate. It believes that this agreement can serve as a benchmark for the thousands of public sector workers who are due to renew their collective agreements shortly.

Solving the Attraction and Retention Crisis

While appreciating the fact that the wage rollback mandate has been halted thanks to the mobilization of workers and the public, speakers at the press conference made it clear that the problem of attracting and retaining workers and guaranteeing quality public services remains.

"This is just the beginning," remarked Steve Drost. "People understand their worth. We have a labour shortage. This has done nothing to address recruitment and retention which is a crisis in many sectors [such as with] transportation, education, health care, nursing homes, social workers, right across the board. This is a good start but we have got a long ways to go. The best recovery plan for New Brunswick is to invest in public services."

He noted that just as collective action by workers was the key to tackling the wage freeze mandate, collective action is at the centre of forcing the government to invest significantly in public services and ensure the well-being of those delivering services.

Workers' Forum congratulates New Brunswick's public sector workers, their defence organization and the residents of New Brunswick for having energized the province and shown so clearly that defending the public interest takes place by upholding workers' rights. They stood their ground and successfully mobilized the population in denouncing state repression and the criminalization of a just struggle that benefits all of society. Workers and people in New Brunswick, Quebec and Canada are calling for a peaceful pro-social solution to the public services crisis, one based on the demands and solutions put forward by those who deliver the services.

This article was published in

November 22, 2021 - No. 110

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