Get ready for a strike, NEU tells its members
They’re not in a legal strike position yet — but officials with the Nunavut Employees Union say they’re getting ready for one nonetheless.
IQALUIT — Officials with Nunavut’s largest union say they’re preparing their members for a possible strike after Nunavut government negotiators reportedly rejected its demand for a new form of vacation travel assistance.
The Nunavut Employees Union still doesn’t have a strike mandate from its members and must jump through a series of regulatory hoops before it will be in a legal strike position.
But it has begun notifying the 1,100 Nunavut government workers who would be affected of a possible strike. At a strike preparation course held last weekend, the union talked strategy with its members.
“We had members of the union and the negotiating team meeting with a facilitator start talking about what it means for a strike and to start putting a strike strategy in place,” said Doug Workman, president of the NEU.
But the union is also working to convince the government to change its stance on vacation travel assistance before the next round of negotiations, scheduled for next month.
The union’s announcement came in response to the most recent round of talks between the government and its workers.
Union touts “travel differential”
At those negotiations, the union presented a new system of calculating northern allowances. That system would include extra money to help pay for vacation travel.
The union is now calling the benefit a “travel differential.”
Workman says government negotiators rejected their travel differential proposal.
“When they talked about the travel differential they said it looked like a VTA and they said ‘no’ to that,” Workman said.
Workman insists travel assistance is the number one priority of Nunavut government workers, and he said the government must reinstate the VTAs, and beef up northern allowances overall if it expects to attract and keep workers.
“We’ve got people who are committed, but they’re getting burned out and we’ve got people leaving,” Workman said.
Parity with feds, NTI
The union wants northern allowances and travel assistance to be on par with benefits offered to federal government or Inuit land claim organization employees.
Workman would not reveal how much the extra goodies are likely to cost, but he said the Nunavut government told union negotiators the improved northern allowance demanded by the union — not including travel assistance — could cost $15-$16 million a year.
Workman doesn’t accept those figures, however.
“We didn’t think those numbers were accurate, because they included the excluded employees and, of course, they included the teachers,” he said.
More than 1,100 Nunavut workers are included in the contract now being negotiated. They include nurses, corrections workers, social workers and office workers.
Not in strike position
The full impact any sort of job action is uncertain, but before the union can launch a legal strike, it must have certain conditions in place.
It must negotiate an essential services agreement with the government, the collective agreement must expire, and the union must have a strike mandate from its membership.
Workman said a mediator would also be called in before the union can conduct any sort of job action.
None of those conditions have been met so far. The current contract doesn’t run out until March 31. The union doesn’t have a strike mandate from its members, and union and government officials aren’t scheduled to hammer out an essential services agreement until later this week.
Workman says he wants to follow the rules governing negotiations and won’t seek a strike mandate just yet.
“We’re not considering doing that now. We want to go to a fourth round and see what the employer has to say.”
The union and government negotiators have another round of negotiations scheduled for March 13-17 in Iqaluit.
The government is expected to present its salary offer during those negotiations. If negotiations don’t go well, the union may consider asking workers for a strike mandate.
But the union wants to take steps to sway the government on the travel assistance issue before the next round gets underway, potentially averting the need for a strike.
“We really believe that we’re going to have to motivate the employer into changing its stance on the travel differential-VTA issue,” Workman said.
Workman wouldn’t reveal how the union plans to convince the government, but he said it won’t include job action.
“It can’t be job action,” Workman said. “Because of the Public Service Act we can’t do any kind of that stuff. There will be some action.”