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Panda bear, Da Mao, peers out of a container as its unloaded from a FedEx transport jet March 25, 2013 in Toronto. Two bears, on loan from China, will spend time at both the Toronto and Calgary Zoos.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

Staff at the Toronto Zoo have ratified a new four-year collective agreement that avoided a strike or lockout ahead of a giant panda exhibit next month.

CUPE Local 1600 says the agreement contains modest improvements to wages in each year of the contract, and concessions demanded by Zoo management were, for the most part, withdrawn.

The zoo and CUPE – representing more than 400 staff – were faced with a midnight strike deadline on Friday but chose to continue bargaining. An agreement was reached shortly after 2 a.m.

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The union had said cuts to bereavement leave, changes to sick pay and benefits, and job security were among the key issues at the bargaining table Employees covered by the agreement include zookeepers, horticulturalists, tradespeople, maintenance, administration and public relations staff, concession and ride operators.

A strike or lockout at the zoo would have jeopardized the May 18 unveiling of an exhibit starring two giant pandas on loan from China.

The pandas – five-year-old Er Shun and her prospective mate, four-year-old Da Mao – arrived in Canada in March on a special flight from China.

"For the sake of the zoo-going public, we're relieved that this period of uncertainty is over," CUPE 1600 president Christine McKenzie said in a statement.

"Our members are hard at work to ensure the Zoo is in best possible condition, so the public has an experience to remember when they come to visit this season."

Once the pandas complete their five-year stay in Toronto they will head to the Calgary Zoo, which has announced a major redesign that will cater to the new visitors.

The Calgary Zoo is hoping for a repeat of its last giant panda visit in 1988, when attendance almost doubled.

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The zoo also plans to eventually house Japanese snow monkeys, seals and to bring back polar bears, which haven't been exhibited there since the last one, Misty, died in 1999.

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