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Faculty at the University of Manitoba have been on strike for more than a week after contract negotiations stalled over salary increases.

The faculty association, which represents around 1,200 professors and librarians at the university, is accusing the provincial government of playing an unseen role in the negotiations. The biggest stumbling block, according to faculty, is what they believe is a government-imposed mandate to keep wage increases below a certain threshold.

“The biggest barrier that we are coming up against is the provincial government,” said Orvie Dingwall, president of the faculty association.

Professors at the Winnipeg-based school have among the lowest salaries in the U15 group of major Canadian research universities, according to the faculty association. They say low salaries have made it difficult to recruit and retain talented researchers.

“At its core this strike is about the University of Manitoba remaining competitive with other research-intensive universities across Canada,” Ms. Dingwall said.

Among Canadian research universities, full professors are highest paid at the University of Toronto, with an average salary approaching $220,000 in 2019-2020, and lowest at Laval, where the average is $140,000. The University of Manitoba average is closer to $150,000 for full professors, second-lowest of the 15 schools, and just under $100,000 for assistant professors, also second-lowest.

“We are not able to attract top candidates who are interested in coming here, because they’re offered higher salaries elsewhere. And we’re also losing faculty to other universities that aren’t even part of the U15,” Ms. Dingwall said.

This week is a fall reading week, so instead of picketing on campus, faculty and their supporters have been targeting the offices of elected members of the provincial Progressive Conservative government, including new Premier Heather Stefanson.

Ms. Dingwall said she believes a deal can be reached as the two sides are not that far apart. The faculty has been seeking a three-year deal with wage increases of 2 per cent in the first two years and 2.5 per cent in year three. The university has so far offered deals in the range of 1.25 per cent and 1.5 per cent, Ms. Dingwall said.

University of Manitoba president Michael Benarroch declined an interview request, citing the sensitivities involved in a labour dispute. In a statement, the university confirmed the provincial government has set a mandate for this round of bargaining although it provided no details. The statement also said that the offers already put forth by the university would make its salary scales more competitive, in some cases moving the university to the middle of the U15.

“In certain faculties, retention and recruitment has been a challenge within the current compensation structure,” the university said in a statement. It added that its most recent offer “would help ensure faculty wages remain competitive with their U15 counterparts.”

A spokeswoman for Manitoba Advanced Education, Skills and Immigration Minister Wayne Ewasko said the government is not the employer in this case and urged the two sides to continue their efforts to find common ground.

Brendan Scott, president of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union, said student reactions to the strike have varied. Among those who are politically engaged there seems to be a lot of support for faculty, he said. But the larger segment of the student body that isn’t politically engaged has been put off by cancelled classes and the threat of further disruption ahead.

“We’ve had a tough go for the past two years. So a strike on top of a pandemic, some students are feeling like ‘What am I even going to university for?’ ” Mr. Scott said. “There is frustration.”

Tuition fees have risen over the past three years and the university is in a reasonably healthy financial position. According to its 2021 financial statement, it ran a surplus of $94-million last year, although the university said a one-time surplus is not a sustainable source to fund salary increases.

This is the second strike in the past five years at the University of Manitoba. In 2016, faculty were on the picket lines for 21 days.

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