Iqaluit MLAs urge housing authority, union to resume talks
Month into labour dispute, union says company wasting money on replacement workers, food allowances
Two of Iqaluit’s MLAs are urging the Iqaluit Housing Authority and the union representing its striking employees to get back to the bargaining table.
The 13 workers represented by the Nunavut Employees Union went on strike March 17 and were locked out two days later by the housing authority.
Now one month into the labour dispute, the union has complained the company refuses to negotiate.
On Tuesday, Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes said that while he has no role in the bargaining, he believes negotiations need to resume.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get an agreement done,” Hickes said, citing housing as an important issue in Iqaluit.
Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster told Nunatsiaq News she is “100 per cent” behind union members receiving wages that help them catch up to inflation, and that give them rates similar to Government of Nunavut workers and the city’s private sector.
“I strongly urge the leadership at the Iqaluit Housing Authority to return to the bargaining table immediately, to work toward a fair and competitive settlement,” Brewster said.
“Both sides need to get back together to explore options to end this dispute.”
Premier P.J. Akeeagok, who is the MLA for Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu, was travelling to Kugluktuk and not available to comment, his press secretary Beth Brown told Nunatsiaq News.
In an interview Tuesday at the picket line on Sivumugiaq Street near the airport, NEU president Jason Rochon told Nunatsiaq News that settling on a contract now would save the housing authority money in the long run.
The NEU is a member of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. In Iqaluit, on April 6, PSAC national executive vice-president Sharon DeSousa told Nunatsiaq News the housing authority had already spent $100,000 to fly in replacement workers during the strike.
A housing authority spokesperson did not respond at the time to either confirm or deny that claim.
“They don’t want to pay local workers the same as they’re paying southerners,” Rochon said Tuesday.
He added that the housing authority is paying replacement workers a $60-a-day food allowance — something the employees were never given. Rochon didn’t identify the source of that information.
The Iqaluit Housing Authority did not respond to Nunatsiaq News’ request for comment on Tuesday.
The union has said the workers are striking for higher wages, compensation for speaking Inuktitut, and to preserve benefits for maternity or paternity leave where the company is seeking concessions.
Rochon said he’s disappointed that Lorne Kusugak, the territory’s minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, as well as local politicians haven’t been more vocal in urging the housing authority to return to the bargaining table.
Michael Courtney, the ministerial political adviser to Kusugak, reiterated Tuesday that Kusugak will not be doing interviews regarding the labour dispute.
Courtney said Kusugak does not want to interfere with negotiations or to be seen as setting a precedent for his involvement in future talks.