Sask. premier warns of “action” against crop insurance strike

Saskatchewan’s premier has warned the union for striking crop insurance workers that “action will be taken” if their strike doesn’t end by Thursday (June 23).

Brad Wall on Wednesday published a letter to Bob Bymoen, president of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU), in which he described the SGEU’s decision as “deplorable” and “simply unconscionable” in view of ongoing issues with flooding and excess moisture across a substantial portion of the province’s cropland, particularly in the southeast.

About 470 employees at Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp.’s (SCIC) head office at Melville and at 21 SCIC offices provincewide walked out on strike Tuesday afternoon.

The province, Wall wrote, has a duty to help flooding victims and an obligation to provide affected farmers with crop insurance coverage and services at such a time.

“Therefore, if I do not receive your assurance that this strike will end within 24 hours, action will be taken to protect the interests of the province and of flood victims,” Wall wrote in his letter to Bymoen, dated Wednesday.

“Many farmers will seed little or no crop this year as a result of the massive flooding,” Wall wrote. “They are relying on the crop insurance coverage they purchased to see them through this difficult time.”

Wall’s letter urged the SGEU to call off the strike “at least until all claims for unseeded and flooded-out acres are processed.”

He further pledged that management at Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp. would “continue to bargain in good faith and work to reach a negotiated contract settlement” during that time.

“As soon as we see some good faith negotiating, we will direct the members to go back to work,” Al Evans, chair of the SGEU negotiating committee for the SCIC workers, said in a separate release Wednesday inviting SCIC management “back to the negotiating table.”

SGEU, in another separate release Wednesday, also noted striking SCIC workers in the flood-stricken southeastern cities of Weyburn and Estevan have volunteered to help with local flood relief efforts.

Wall didn’t say in his letter whether the province would try to order the SCIC staff back to work or what other specific “action” would be taken if the strike doesn’t end Thursday.

“Monetary demand”

SCIC, which manages business risk management programs including crop insurance, AgriStability and the province’s wildlife damage compensation program, said late Tuesday it “will continue to conduct business” at its customer service offices throughout the province.

The insurer said it will also maintain regular office hours at this point, but warned of possible delays on calls to its AgriStability call centre and through the customer service office’s toll-free lines.

SCIC customers “can still continue to mail or fax their seeded acreage reports and leave a message should they need to speak to a customer service manager or register a claim,” the corporation said.

SCIC’s SGEU-represented employees have been without a contract since September 2009. The union on Tuesday cited no progress in negotiations on issues such as wages and employee expenses incurred for travel within the province.

In its release late Tuesday, SCIC said it had made a competitive offer to the SGEU last Thursday including a 5.5 per cent general wage increase over three years, which the Crown corporation said it believed to be “a fair, market competitive offer that is reflective of other public sector settlements.”

The SGEU turned down that offer and has also formally withdrawn its initial wage demand of 7.75 per cent over three years, SCIC said. The union, SCIC added, “has no monetary demand on the table at this time.”

Related stories:

Sask. crop insurance reporting deadlines extended, June 22, 2011

Saskatchewan crop insurance staff hit the bricks, June 21, 2011

Sask. crop insurance staff approve strike mandate, May 30, 2011

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