Strike over? QEC, NEU reach tentative wage-benefit deal

“It is the best we could hope for at this time”

By THOMAS ROHNER AND JIM BELL

QEC workers walk in the picket line near the QEC headquarters in Iqaluit Aug. 10. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)


QEC workers walk in the picket line near the QEC headquarters in Iqaluit Aug. 10. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)

The Qulliq Energy Corp. and its unionized workers have reached a tentative wage-benefit pact that will likely end a nearly four-week-old strike, the Public Service Alliance of Canada said late Aug. 11.

“It is not a great deal, but it is the best we could hope for at this time,” NEU president Bill Fennell said in the statement issued mid-evening Aug. 11.

Neither side released any details from the tentative agreement, saying they will make them public after the deal is ratified.

But the QEC said in tweets that earlier in the afternoon they presented the QEC with a “new generous offer, combined with existing competitive benefits/housing subsidy.”

This suggests the employer likely put more wage money on the table, but did not offer to increase northern allowances or housing benefits.

When the strike began July 16, the union demanded a three-year contract with per-cent wage increases of 2, 2.1 and 2.25 in each of those three years.

The QEC had offered a four-year deal with per-cent wage increases of 2, 1, 1, and 2 in each of four years.

It’s not clear how far the government budged due to union pressure, but union officials seemed pleased by the outcome of this week’s talks.

“I’m pleased we were able to reach a fair and reasonable contract that allows workers to continue providing a crucial service to the public,” said Jack Bourassa, the regional vice president North for the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

And the workers’ bargaining team recommends union members approve the tentative deal, in a vote likely to be held “in the coming weeks,” the NEU said.

“It gets our members back to work so they can provide for their families and service the Nunavummiut,” Fennell said

After the two sides resumed talks this past Aug. 6, an end to the strike seemed possible.

Fennell told Nunatsiaq News Aug. 10 that negotiators for the territory’s power company contacted the Nunavut Employees Union on Aug. 6.

The two sides hadn’t met since well before the strike began on July 16.

“They contacted us and asked to meet with us with an offer on wage settlement,” Fennell said from his Iqaluit office.

The NEU then tabled a counter-offer on Aug. 7, Fennell said, and received a response from government negotiators Aug. 11.

“We’re just hopeful that they either agree [with our offer] or have a counter-offer,” Fennell added.

“And we’re not that far apart.”

Workers are worried about the state of power plant equipment, Fennell added, which, because of its age, requires regular maintenance.

“They’re anxious to get back to work before there are power outages across Nunavut.”

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