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Unifor 594 members walk the picket line at the Co-op Refinery, in Regina, on Jan. 21, 2020.

Michael Bell/The Canadian Press

The Saskatchewan government has appointed a special mediator in a contract dispute that has dragged on for more than two months at a Regina oil refinery.

Labour Minister Don Morgan said veteran arbitrator Vince Ready will try to help refinery owner Federated Co-operatives Ltd. and the union for about 700 workers to reach an agreement.

He said it is in the interest of both parties to negotiate a contract at the bargaining table.

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“We are appointing a special mediator to help resolve the impasse because of the impact of the dispute on Saskatchewan families, communities and businesses,” he said in a news release.

Also on Wednesday, a judge found Unifor guilty for the second time of violating a court injunction that said members could not prevent traffic from moving in and out of the plant. Justice Neil Robertson fined the union $250,000 on top of a $100,000 penalty last month.

Mr. Ready, who has worked in labour relations for more than five decades, is to begin his work Tuesday.

Premier Scott Moe said he hopes Mr. Ready’s appointment will be the “first significant step toward an agreement.”

“It is my true hope that we’re able to move forward – and move forward swiftly – in finding a resolution to this situation that is best for all involved and best for all in the province,” Mr. Moe said.

Federated Co-operatives said it looks forward to getting a deal done.

“Since the premier’s first offer of a special mediator, we have welcomed this appointment and the opportunity to have productive bargaining,” the company said in a statement.

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“We look forward to meaningful discussions with Mr. Ready that lead to a long-term, sustainable agreement that works for both parties.”

The news was also met positively by Unifor.

“I applaud the government’s decision for appointing the mediator and we hope he can help us in getting a settlement,” Local 594 president Kevin Bittman said.

Negotiations have gone nowhere because of the company’s stubbornness at the bargaining table, he said.

“The Co-op is seeking to gut our jobs and our pensions during a time of record profits,” Mr. Bittman said.

“We have asked for the standard industry pay increases and to leave the pensions that FCL promised they would not touch three years ago.”

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Federated Co-operatives locked out workers Dec. 5 when the union issued strike notice. Pensions are the main sticking point in the contract fight.

The company has said Unifor’s barricades at the Co-op refinery site were leading to gasoline shortages in some communities because trucks hauling fuel weren’t able to get in or out of the plant.

Mr. Ready is to recommend terms for an agreement if the two sides can’t reach a deal with his help within 20 days.

Mr. Ready was involved in trying to find a solution in a prolonged forestry strike on Vancouver Island going back to July. A tentative deal was reached this week.

He was part of negotiations in the 2014 teachers strike in British Columbia and published a binding report resolving a stalemate between BC Ferries and its employees union in 2007.

He also resolved a violent dispute at the Giant gold mine in Yellowknife in 1992. That strike resulted in the deaths of nine workers in a mine explosion. Miner Roger Warren was convicted of setting up the blast.

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With files from CKRM

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