10/27/2012 11:43 EDT | Updated 12/27/2012 05:12 EST

Airport Screener Labour Dispute: Ottawa's Intervention Is 'Premature' Says Union


ST.JOHN'S, N.L. - Ottawa's intervention in a labour dispute involving airport security screeners in the Atlantic provinces is "premature," the union that represents the workers said Saturday.

Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said Friday that she had asked the Canada Industrial Relations Board to review the situation and ensure that public safety would not be affected by a work stoppage.

But Boyd Bussey of the United Steelworkers in St. John's, N.L., said there's still time for the union and their employer, Securitas Transport Aviation Security Limited, to return to the negotiating table.

"I think the minister's statement is a little premature. I think it's a whole lot premature, actually, because the contract doesn't expire until the last of the month and there's still time for the company and the union to get back to the table," Bussey said in an interview on Saturday.

Securitas delivers airport screening services on behalf of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

Bussey said the two sides are in the midst of developing an essential services agreement and if that cannot be reached, then the union would ask the labour board to intervene.

He said the union has offered the company 80 per cent of its workforce during the event of a strike, while Securitas has sought 100 per cent.

"The company has suggested it should be business as usual... but that's not how a strike works," said Bussey. "I don't see the labour board saying we can't have people manning our picket line."

The company could not be reached for comment Saturday.

The government has said both the union and Securitas must continue normal work activities until the labour board makes a ruling on what level of service must be provided to ensure public safety.

Union members have voted almost unanimously to strike.

Bussey said the two sides are far apart on issues like wage increases and scheduling.

The employees' contract expires this Wednesday, but Bussey said the 800 workers won't be walking off the job Thursday if negotiations are still ongoing.

"There's still time for the company and the union to get back to the table," said Bussey, adding that it is hoped negotiations will resume next week.

"A work stoppage is the last thing anybody wants."

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