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Alberta labour board hearing delayed

EDMONTON - A hearing to deal with a labour law that imposes a contract on Alberta government employees will start one day late.

The Alberta Labour Board hearing was to begin Tuesday to deal with the Public Service Salary Restraint Act, which came into force on Dec. 11.

The union representing 22,000 government workers, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, claims the law is an unfair labour practice because it takes away the union's right to arbitration.

The act also imposes a four-year contract with frozen wages in the first two years, followed by one per cent hikes in each of the following two.

The bill returns the right of arbitration after this contract is settled and stipulates the imposed deal only kicks in if both sides can't reach an agreement by Jan. 31.

The hearing is expected to begin Wednesday.

The union wanted to subpoena Premier Alison Redford, Deputy Premier Dave Hancock and Finance Minister Doug Horner to testify but the board rejected the subpoenas after government lawyers argued that the politicians had “parliamentary privilege.”

“As the board ruled they can’t be compelled to attend but they can be certainly voluntarily attend, and I would imagine that being this is a government of openness and transparency that they would want to defend themselves against our complaint of bad faith bargaining,” said AUPE president Guy Smith.

“The fact that they’re not showing up should be of concern to Albertans.”

Smith says it would have given the government a chance to defend its policy.

“This is one of the most significant pieces of legislation this government has brought forward. Obviously it’s being questioned by us through the Alberta Labour Relations Board and I would think it would be incumbent upon the premier to basically defend her position on this but as we’ve seen they’re refusing to attend.”

Provincial law prevents the AUPE from striking, so former Tory premier Peter Lougheed gave the union the right to binding arbitration in 1977.

A second law, the Public Sector Services Continuation Act, was given royal assent on Dec. 11, but is not in force until it is proclaimed.

It introduces steep six-figure fines on unions that engage in illegal strikes or even speak publicly about such a walkout.

The government said this is in response to a wildcat walkout of prison guards and other security staff in the spring of 2013, which forced the province to scramble to keep prisons safe and courthouses operating.

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