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Cablegate: Nefoundland-Labrador Government Suffers Through Bitter

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS HALIFAX 000127

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CAN

E.O. 12958: E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB PGOV CA
SUBJECT: NEFOUNDLAND-LABRADOR GOVERNMENT SUFFERS THROUGH BITTER
UNREST

REF: HALIFAX 97


1. (U) SUMMARY: Having broken a 4-week-old public sector union
strike April 27 with the introduction of back-to-work
legislation, Newfoundland-Labrador Tory Premier Danny Williams
is making a last-ditch offer to negotiate a collective labor
agreement. On April 29, the Premier said he would suspend
passage of back-to-work legislation until May 3, in response to
union officials' agreement to a new round of negotiations.
While he has thoroughly angered the unions, to what degree he
has damaged his political future is unknown, pending general
public reaction. Looming on the horizon is a potential stike by
the teachers and nurses unions. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) The cash-strapped Williams government and the 20,000
members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public
and Private Employees and the Canadian Union of Public Employees
have been locked in a bitter dispute over new labor agreements,
culminating in a 4-week strike that only ended on April 27, when
the government introduced back-to-work legislation. The
province's unionized workforce called the bill the toughest back
to work legislation in Canada. Consisting of tough penalties
for not returning to work and a mandated four-year agreement,
the government's terms fell well short of what the unions were
seeking on issues such as wage increases and sick leave
benefits.

3. (U) Despite an ugly backlash from labor groups and the fact
that the workers have returned to their jobs, the Premier has
remained undeterred in moving the legislation through the House
of Assembly. Claiming that the strike has drastically affected
hospitals, nursing homes, schools, provincially-operated ferries
and other public services, the Premier said he had a
responsibility to protect public health and safety from the
possibility of any more labor unrest. Nonetheless, the Premier
pledged to continue negotiations with the union officials up
until the last minute. That offer met with some success on April
29, when the Premier said he would suspend passage of the bill
until May 3 in response to a new round of negotiations with the
union officials.

4. (SBU) COMMENT: This bitter and uncertain labor scene
undoubtedly has brought a swift end to Danny Williams' honeymoon
with the electorate just six months after he and his Tory party
won a decisive victory in the October 2003 provincial election.
Our contacts on "The Rock" tell us that Williams undoubtedly has
made a lot of enemies with his hard-nosed approach with the
unions, to the point that no one is willing to guess just how
damaging this situation will be to his political career. A
major unknown is just how the general public will judge the
Premier's actions, which will not be known until the next poll
results are released. Residents, especially those with cardiac
problems and needing cancer treatments, have been waiting weeks
for services, and hospital administrators are acknowledging that
it could months to get caught up from the strike. Obviously
with their health in jeopardy, these patients have had little
support for the strikers.

4. (SBU) Comment (Continued): There are also countless other
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who support Williams and his
firm stance that this is not the time in the province's fiscal
history to be looking at wage increases. It is not clear just
how prevalent is this sentiment. One point that our contacts do
agree on is that the Premier and his government are definitely
going through a tough time with no real end in sight. However
the situation with the two public sector unions is eventually
resolved, contracts with the province's teachers and nurses are
also about to expire. The Premier could then find himself
knee-deep in the exact same situation a few months down the road
- only this time it will be teachers and nurses on the picket
line. END COMMENT

ROWLAND

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