CBC union, management to meet
TORONTO (CP) – The two sides in the CBC lockout have agreed to sit down with federal Labour Minister Joe Fontana on Monday in a bid to end the six-week-old dispute.
The meeting will take place hours before Parliament is set to resume for the fall session. “I am inviting you to meet with me . . . to review the status of the negotiations and to develop a plan to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion without further delay,” Fontana said Friday in a letter to CBC president and CEO Robert Rabinovitch and to Arnold Amber, president of the CBC branch of the Canadian Media Guild.
CBC spokesman Jason MacDonald confirmed that Rabinovitch will attend the meeting.
“I think any initiative that could move the process along toward a negotiated agreement is positive,” he said. “I mean I sound like a broken record but I’ve said our objective is to get a negotiated agreement as soon as possible.”
The union will also attend the meeting. Karen Wirsig of the Canadian Media Guild called the minister’s invitation “the first major breakthrough” in the dispute.
Fontana could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. His letter said he’s heard grave concerns about the length of the lockout and is particularly worried about the impact it is having in remote areas of the country.
The union is still planning a major rally Monday in Ottawa, where morale on the picket line is said to be sagging.
Fontana’s invitation came a day after the Guild tabled what it called its first comprehensive offer in the dispute that has locked out 5,500 unionized employees and crippled original programming on the CBC English-language radio and TV networks.
The package was quickly dismissed by management for failing to deal with two key issues: the CBC’s wish to make greater use of contract employees and the qualifications a laid-off employee would have to have to justify bumping a colleague with less seniority.
“It has been the experience at the CBC for deals to be concluded in Ottawa with both the federal mediators there, but also key members of the CBC management team who for the most part have not been present at the bargaining at all,” said guild president Lise Lareau, referring to a 1996 dispute that was settled in such a manner that a deal was reached within three days.
Ian Morrison, spokesman for the watchdog group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, believes Rabinovitch – who has kept a low profile during the lockout – is under pressure from the CBC board of directors as well as the Commons heritage committee.
“He has been in a sort of bunker,” he said.
“So I see this as a hopeful sign. If this does not resolve the issue, ultimately more people are going to be saying ‘Who is this Rabinovitch anyway? Why does he think that he can hold the public up to ransom for whatever purpose he has?'”