Nunavut power workers reject wage offer, threaten strike

Union members voted 92 per cent for strike last March

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

Iqaluit's recently renovated power plant. If wage-benefit talks between the Qulliq Energy Corp.and the Nunavut Employees Union continue to go nowhere, Nunavut residents might soon see striking workers setting up picket lines at this and other QEC workplaces. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)


Iqaluit’s recently renovated power plant. If wage-benefit talks between the Qulliq Energy Corp.and the Nunavut Employees Union continue to go nowhere, Nunavut residents might soon see striking workers setting up picket lines at this and other QEC workplaces. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

Unionized workers at the Qulliq Energy Corp. are threatening to strike if their employer doesn’t improve a proposed wage-benefit deal that workers voted June 26 to reject, the Nunavut Employees Union said July 3.

“We are prepared to serve strike notice as early as next week. But we are open to returning to the bargaining table if the employer is willing to compromise,” Bill Fennell, the president of the NEU, said in a news release.

The NEU is a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, a big national organization that represents mostly government workers.

Wage talks broke down this past December, despite the efforts of mediator Colin Taylor, who could not resolve the impasse.

The Government of Nunavut, which appears to be handling the negotiations on behalf of the QEC’s board, offered a four-year contract with wage increases of two per cent, one per cent, one per cent and two per cent in each of those four years.

The union says that’s not enough. They want a three-year contract with wage hikes of 2.15 per cent and 2.25 per cent in each of the first two years.

This past March, QEC’s unionized workers voted 92 per cent in favour of strike action.

And in a vote held June 26, they rejected the employer’s last wage offer.

“Our members have given us a strong strike mandate and a solid majority have rejected QEC’s last offer. We want to work together to avert a strike, but we need to see that same commitment from the employer as well,” said Jack Bourassa, PSAC’s regional vice president for the North.

About 140 of the QEC’s approximately 190 employees are unionized.

And about 80 QEC jobs — unionized and excluded alike — are located in Iqaluit. Another 40 or so jobs are located at the corporation’s “headquarters” in Baker Lake.

The rest are located at small offices in Cambridge Bay and Rankin Inlet or community power plants throughout the territory.

About 57 per cent of jobs at the power corporation — as of March 31, 2014 — were held by Inuit, the QEC’s last employment report said.

Wages, salaries and benefits represent the QEC’s second highest annual expense, but financial information from the corporation’s annual reports suggest that its employees’ share is falling.

Wages, salaries and benefits stood at 26.6 per cent of total expenses in 2011 — that fell to 24.4 per cent of total expenses in 2014.

In 2014, the QEC produced a small surplus of about $3.6 million, based on total revenues of $122.4 million and total expenses of $118.8 million, the corporation’s last annual report said.

The corporation managed to do that on its own, without the help of any transfers from the Government of Nunavut, its only shareholder.

In 2011, the QEC reported a surplus of $15.8 million — but they did that with help a $13.1 million GN handout.

Those annual GN contributions fell to about $2.4 million in 2012 and 2013.

On May 1, 2014, the QEC increased power rates by 7.1 per cent across all rate categories, following a recommendation from the Utility Rates Review Council.

That rate hike is expected to push the power corporation’s revenues up to $130.9 million a year.

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