01/10/2012 12:37 EST | Updated 03/11/2012 05:12 EDT

Raitt rebuffs union call to intervene in dispute at Acadian Coach Lines

FREDERICTON - The federal government has rejected a call to get involved in a labour dispute that has stopped intercity bus service in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island for more than a month.

In an email, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt says she's disappointed the two sides in the dispute at Acadian Coach Lines have been unable to reach an agreement.

"I encourage both parties to return to the bargaining table and reach new collective agreements as soon as possible," she said.

"The best solution in any labour dispute is the one that the parties reach themselves."

Glen Carr of the Amalgamated Transit Union said Maritimers are being denied an important service and Raitt should intervene.

"It didn't take her long to step into the Air Canada or the Post Office (disputes), and the public's wants and needs need to be serviced," he said Tuesday.

The company locked out 59 bus drivers, maintenance workers and customer agents on Dec. 2 and has refused to enter into binding interest arbitration.

Acadian vice-president Marc-Andre Varin said he doesn't think binding interest arbitration would ensure the long-term viability of the company.

"Having a contract imposed by the government or by an arbitrator would most likely be some kind of compromise which mostly likely would not please either the union or the company," he said.

He said negotiations need to resume as soon as possible, but until the union makes an offer that improves productivity, there is no reason to return to the bargaining table.

Varin said the New Brunswick routes have been losing money and only survive because of profits on other routes, including those in Quebec.

"From our point of view, there are still benefits from having a complete network and the synergy of the network operating completely in Eastern Canada," he said.

"We're interested to be there, but there's a limit to how much we're willing to pay to be there."

Varin said there have been some discussions with the Department of Transportation in New Brunswick about possible assistance, such as a subsidy, but he would not go into detail.

A spokesman for the department said no one was available Tuesday to comment.

Group Orleans Express — Acadian's parent company — doesn't have to pay provincial diesel tax in Quebec.

The lockout forced some university students to organize alternate ways to travel home and back to school over the Christmas holidays.

Carr said it's time for Ottawa to step in.

"If (the company) is not prepared to service the public of P.E.I. and New Brunswick, and in Nova Scotia, then pull their licence and give it to someone who wants to do it."