REGINA -- The province has appointed a special mediator to assist in negotiations between Unifor 594 and the Co-op Refinery.

The province announced Vince Ready's appointment by Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Minister Don Morgan on Wednesday.

The labour dispute between the union and the refinery began on Dec. 5.

“It is in the interest of both parties to negotiate a contract at the bargaining table,” Morgan said in a news release. “The parties have had the opportunity to negotiate an agreement and have been unsuccessful. We are appointing a special mediator to help resolve the impasse because of the impact of the dispute on Saskatchewan families, communities and businesses.”

The mediator will begin on Feb. 18, the province says. Ready will recommend terms if both sides of the dispute aren't able to come to an agreement. They will have 20 days to reach a settlement.

Both Unifor and Federated Co-operatives Ltd. said they welcome the mediator in the dispute.

"The government showed real leadership in stepping forward and appointing a special mediator," Unifor Local 594 President Kevin Bittman said at a press conference on Wednesday. "Vince ready is probably the best in the business, so if there is somebody that can bridge that gap and get us there, we are very cautiously optimistic that he can get us there."

"We look forward to meaningful discussions with Mr. Ready that lead to a long-term, sustainable agreement that works for both parties," Co-op said in a release.

Last week, Premier Scott Moe said he would bring in a mediator as long as Unifor took down barricades surrounding the refinery. Police have taken down some of the blockade.

“We have had success with the appointment of a special mediator in past disputes and are hopeful that the outstanding issues between the parties can be resolved with the assistance of Mr. Ready,” Morgan said.

A court order limited the amount of time Unifor workers could block trucks from getting into or out of the refinery.

A decision is expected soon for a contempt of court hearing from last week. The refinery is seeking jail time for Unifor 594 members involved in the job action, along with millions of dollars in fines.