Union applies for mediation, prepares for strike vote

GN-NEU wage talks fail

By JIM BELL

Following the failure of wage talks in Iqaluit last week, the Nunavut Employees Union is now requesting the use of a mediator to help reach a new deal between themselves and the Government of Nunavut.

The NEU issued the request for mediation Jan. 25, after talks broke down for good.

To put itself into a legal strike position, the union will work on finishing an essential services agreement with the GN and conduct a vote among its members. They hope to get both tasks done before a mediator is appointed.

The two sides could not agree on a long list of issues, including basic wage rates, northern allowance payments, recruitment and retention payments, and issues raised by special groups such as corrections workers and nurses.

This means that after 18 months of negotiations, the GN and its 2,900 unionized workers aren't much closer to a new deal than they were in October of 2006, when their last collective agreement expired.

"I'm outraged by this. I find it absolutely ludicrous," said Doug Workman, president of the NEU, a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

In last week's bargaining session, union negotiators lowered their basic wage demand and GN negotiators raised their offer, but not by enough to bridge the yawning gap that still separates them.

"When we got to the financial issues, they were not going to move. They said they had reached the end of their mandate," Workman said.

He went on to say that, in his opinion, the GN offers its employees little incentive to stay in their jobs.

Workman said newly hired workers now stay only a year or two. Raising that retention record to three or four years "would be a success story," Workman said.

Last week, the NEU knocked a percentage point off its basic wage-raise demand. Instead of 6 per cent wage hikes, they're now asking for 5 per cent hikes every six months, starting Oct. 1, 2006.

The GN raised its wage offer slightly from last December, when it offered 1.5 per cent wage increases every six months starting April 1 2008 and ending April 1, 2010, with a 1 per cent signing bonus.

Instead, the GN offered six-month wage increases starting at 2 per cent and rising to 2.75 per cent by April 1, 2010.

The GN also offered a new payment: a 1 per cent hike retroactive to Oct. 1, 2006 – the only part of their wage offer that would date back to when the deal expired.

Workman said this is not enough "retroactivity," and that it's a major sore point for the union.

An even bigger sore point is the GN's offer on Nunavut northern allowance payments.

The union is upset because the GN claims the cost of living has actually gone down in eight Nunavut communities, so in their offer the GN froze northern allowance amounts for those communities.

Workman said the NEU does not trust the formula the GN uses to calculate its northern allowance payments and wants the territorial government to adopt the "isolated post allowance" that Ottawa uses to pay federal workers.

"We want to have a formula that truly reflects the cost of living in Nunavut," Workman said.

The union also doesn't trust a GN proposal under which the two sides would review the northern allowance system over the life of the next collective agreement.

He says that's because the GN's proposed review does not provide a method of resolving disputes, which in his opinion makes the idea "worthless."

As for the union's demand that each employee get a housing allowance of $1,000 a month, Workman said the GN "just ignored it."

"That's a huge problem for our members," he said.

Yet another divisive issue is a GN proposal to take its large number of casual employees and give them a new name: "temporary employees."

More than one in four GN workers – 27 per cent – fall into this category, and most are Inuit. Workman said the GN has used casual hiring to plump up its Inuit employment numbers to reach the magic 50 per cent level.

Under the GN proposal, such workers – more than 700 of them as of March 2007 – would not be entitled to a full benefit package unless they work at last eight continuous months.

"Inuit dominate casual employment. This employer and what they're doing with casual employment is a disgrace," Workman said.

Meanwhile, a letter from the NEU requesting a mediator has now gone to Louis Tapardjuk, Nunavut's human resources minister.

Under Nunavut's Public Service Act, each side in a labour dispute may request the appointment of a mediator, who must be a person agreeable to both parties.

The mediator's job is to encourage the two sides to resolve their differences and to produce a report with recommendations.

But a mediator may not impose an agreement – the employer and the union may either accept or reject a mediator's recommendations.

"The only time we will be going back to the negotiating table will be under the auspices of mediation," Workman said.

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