01/27/2014 11:22 EST | Updated 03/29/2014 05:59 EDT

New Brunswick appoints mediator to try to resolve university strike

FREDERICTON - The New Brunswick government ordered the two sides in a labour dispute at the University of New Brunswick back to the table Monday to try to end a strike that has thrown thousands of students out of class.

Jody Carr, the province's minister of labour and post-secondary education, appointed Brian Keller as a special mediator to try to work out a collective agreement for the administration and faculty association.

Carr said he decided to act because there has been little movement by either side since the faculty walked off the job on Jan. 13.

"Students, parents and many others are frustrated and concerned and feel their education is in jeopardy," Carr told a news conference. "We recognize the increasing urgency of the situation."

He said Keller will meet with the sides on Wednesday and Thursday.

Carr said Keller was chosen from a list submitted by the school administration and faculty to get them back to the bargaining table and students back in the classroom.

He said students have so far not lost their term but that there are timelines for some, such as nurses, who need to complete clinical hours within a certain time.

"Our priority remains that all students will not lose their term," he said.

The administration said on the school's website that it welcomed Keller's appointment and the resumption of talks.

Carr said Keller is an experienced mediator who has intervened in labour disruptions involving Air Canada, Canada Post, municipalities and other universities.

The strike has closed classes at campuses in Fredericton, Saint John, Bathurst and Moncton following months of negotiations that failed to produce a collective agreement.

Carr would not say what the next step would be if a deal is not reached through mediation, which is being paid for by the province.

The union that represents the striking workers is at odds with the administration over wages and workload.