Ratification vote could bring speedy end to Nunavut power strike: union

“It’s very different out there on the picket line today”

By THOMAS ROHNER

Striking Qulliq Energy Corp. workers pass time on the picket line in Iqaluit by playing some games. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)


Striking Qulliq Energy Corp. workers pass time on the picket line in Iqaluit by playing some games. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)

Bill Fennell, president of the Nunavut Employees Union, says a ratification vote could take place on the proposed new collective agreement by the end of the week. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)


Bill Fennell, president of the Nunavut Employees Union, says a ratification vote could take place on the proposed new collective agreement by the end of the week. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)

A more festive mood prevailed among striking Qulliq Energy Corp. workers on the picket line Aug. 11, with news that a tentative deal to settle the labour dispute had been reached the previous evening.

About two dozen workers, on strike since July 16, gathered in front of the Nunavut Employee Union building on the morning of Aug. 11, playing games and just hanging out.

“It’s very different out there on the picket line today,” NEU president Bill Fennell told Nunatsiaq News Aug. 11.

The Government of Nunavut contacted the union around 5 p.m. Aug. 10 with a counter-offer, Fennell said, and by 7 p.m. a written tentative agreement had been agreed upon.

The details of that agreement are not available yet because each side first needs to ratify it, but striking workers have told Nunatsiaq News that the deal focuses on wage increases.

Fennell said the union’s strategy committee, made up of members from the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the NEU and elected members, will meet at noon Aug. 11 to set a date for a ratification vote.

“This might be optimistic, but I’m hoping we can do it this week still,” Fennell said.

Before workers return to their jobs — if both sides ratify the agreement — a back-to-work protocol also needs to be put into place, Fennell said.

The protocol is standard practice to ensure any lingering resentment caused by the labour dispute doesn’t boil over into acts of retaliation.

“It’s to protect both sides,” Fennell said.

In a news release issued by the union around 8:30 p.m. Aug. 10, Fennell said the agreement would get workers back on the job to provide for their families and power to Nunavummiut.

“It is not a great deal, but it is the best we could hope for at this time,” Fennell said in that release.

Fennell expanded on that on Aug. 11.

“Historically in the North, percentage wage increases are higher [than the tentative agreement]. This is probably more in line with what’s going on in the South. But our [bargaining] team recommended this deal,” he said.

If workers reject the tentative agreement, the strike would continue.

The four-week-old strike has included a war of words between the GN and the union, and a letter from QEC president Peter Tumilty cutting housing subsidies to striking workers.

But that letter proved to be premature, as the GN’s deputy finance minister Chris D’Arcy later told Nunatsiaq News that government lawyers were exploring whether housing subsidies could be withdrawn.

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