'It's a pretty reasonable agreement.'

GN workers to get 19 per cent pay bump


Government of Nunavut workers will see their pay cheques fatten 19 per cent by 2010 under a deal reached between their union and employer May 4.

The tentative collective agreement, reached after three days of mediation, still must be ratified by the government and nearly 2,000 Nunavut Employees Union members.

But, if approved, the deal would give government workers an immediate 5.25 per cent pay raise, in order to catch up with the expiration of the last collective agreement in October 1, 2006.

Wages would continue to ratchet up every six months, working out to a 19-per-cent increase in hourly wages by April 1, 2010.

The deal also boosts the northern allowance received by workers in all communities by at least 5 per cent. And it includes provisions to negotiate, during the life of the collective agreement, a new formula to calculate the northern allowance.

The union has long argued the current formula doesn't take into account the full costs of living in Nunavut.

And, in an effort to encourage employees to stay in Nunavut, workers who stay with the GN for at least three years will receive an annual bonus that begins at $1,000 and grows to $5,000 after 21 years of service.

Doug Workman, president of the NEU, said the deal is too good to walk away from.

"It's a pretty reasonable agreement," he said. "You can't go on strike on that."

Nurses, among the most dissatisfied of GN employees, would receive a package of bonuses to encourage them to stay on staff, including an additional $20,000 for new nurses who stay three years.

At present Nunavut's nurses receive better pay and perks by quitting their government jobs to work for an agency, which then rents their services back to an increasingly short-staffed government.

But Cheryl Young, head of the nurses' local, said the contract doesn't offer enough new money to break this vicious cycle.

"If a nurse called me today and asked me what to do, I'd say, 'go check out the agencies,'" she said.

Still, even if nurses remain unhappy, this likely won't be a deal-breaker. There are about 130 nurses in Nunavut, so "whether we want it or not, our numbers mean we won't have much of a say," Young said.

The employer wouldn't budge on two issues, Workman said. One is the matter of retroactive pay for former employees. The deal only offers back pay for current GN employees.

Housing is the other issue. While the government abandoned in February its much-hated policy of dramatically increasing rents paid by employees, the union wanted rent protection built into the collective agreement.

But Workman said he doesn't believe any member of the legislative assembly seeking re-election would dare revisit the idea of raising staff housing rents.

"It would be political suicide," he said. "I think they understand that."

In mediation, the government also gave up on its plan to reclassify casual workers as "temporary workers," which would have resulted in more than 700 workers – most of them Inuit – losing out on a full benefit package unless they worked at least eight continuous months.

The proposed deal also includes provisions to negotiate a new shift schedule for prison workers – another ongoing dispute.

Mediation was a last-ditch effort to avoid a strike. Workers voted 90 per cent in favour of striking in late March.

But, because the union won't release the number of members who voted, it remains unclear how many union members would actually welcome a strike.

Wage talks between the government and union broke down in late January, 18 months after negotiations began.

Workman credited Colin Taylor, the Vancouver lawyer who served as mediator, for bringing the two parties together.

Next, the NEU needs to put together a ratification package that describes to members the details of the proposed contract and have it translated into Inuktitut.

Members will then be asked to ratify the deal. The NEU hopes to have the vote complete by early June, Workman said.

The contract's proposed pay structure is as follows:

  • 1 per cent as of Oct. 1, 2006;
  • 2 per cent as of Oct. 1, 2007;
  • 2.25 per cent as of April 1, 2008;
  • 2.25 per cent as of Oct. 1, 2008;
  • 2.25 per cent as of April 1, 2009;
  • 2.25 per cent as of Oct. 1, 2009; and
  • 5 per cent as of April 1, 2010.
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