Municipalities in New Brunswick say they can’t continue to afford large contracts awarded through arbitration to firefighters and other protective services.
Earlier this week, Moncton firefighters accepted an initial offer from the city of an 11.8 per cent wage increase over four years. Last year, firefighters in Fredericton negotiated a 13.4 per cent wage hike over four-and-a-half years with the city.
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Moncton’s deputy fire chief Don McCabe said the industry has set the curve for salaries.
“It’s not something that the City of Moncton created, so we do the best we can to negotiate, and we did it this time without an arbitrator, which we all know arbitration is very expensive,” he said.
In Saint John, contract talks between the city and its firefighters are already underway, but negotiations with police officers have yet to begin.
“All the protective services deserve a fair wage, but there is a limit to a fair wage in my opinion,” Saint John Coun. Bill Farren said.
The provincial government promised changes to binding arbitration in its 2016 budget, and legislation is expected to follow in the spring.
Atlantic Provinces Professional Fire Fighters Association president Glen Sullivan said the argument that municipalities can’t afford to pay is disingenuous.
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“Between arbitrated and negotiated settlements, there’s very little difference, and actually in New Brunswick we’re typically paid less than other municipalities of similar size throughout Canada and throughout the region,” he said.
Sullivan said firefighters are being used as scapegoats.
“Its a fair arbitration system that’s currently in place and there’s actually a mechanism for them to deal with any concerns they may have surrounding that particular system,” he said.
Sullivan said his group remains willing to sit down and discuss changes to the arbitration system.