NEU contract talks: Little chance for VTA reinstatement
IQALUIT — The first round of contract talks between the Nunavut government and its workers has failed to show any promise of reinstated vacation travel assistance or a pay hike for employees, the president of the union representing Nunavut government workers says.
“I think they’ve made it pretty clear that there’s no money for us. That’s a concern for us, because our members are overworked,” said Doug Workman, president of the Nunavut Employees Union.
The NEU negotiating team sat down with negotiators from the Nunavut government earlier this month to hammer out a new collective agreement for 1,100 employees, including school secretaries and income support workers.
The union entered negotiations saying its members want an improved benefits package — including the return of vacation travel assistance — and better working conditions.
But the first round of negotiations gave little indication the government is willing to pay for the benefits, Workman said.
Workman said “fiscal responsibility” emerged as a government theme during the first round of negotiations. He believes that theme could mean bad news for government workers who expect the union to win salary hikes and a return of vacation travel assistance.
“One of the themes was fiscal responsibility and it’s our interpretation that theme means there is a continuation of maintaining the same lower salary. Fiscal responsibility means the employer is expecting the employee to subsidize their spending through status quo on salaries, lower benefits and no VTAs,” Workman said.
Negotiations have only just gotten underway and the territorial government still hasn’t presented its package to the union’s bargaining team, but Workman said it’s important that union members are told of the talks.
“We’re telling our members it’s not there and we want them to know that it’s not there… rather than saying nothing at all because there is a great assumption out there it’s a fait accompli that we’re going to get VTAs and that’s not what we’re hearing from the employer,” Workman said.
“It’s an observation, and I think it’s only fair to share it with the members. So far we have seen nothing. It’s my responsibility to be truthful to them and not sugarcoat it,” Workman said.
Still, the Nunavut government isn’t expected to present its financial package to the union until the new year. It may include some of the items the union wants.
Workman said the union has a mandate to seek a better benefits package and will work towards that. VTAs were cut from their collective agreement in 1994.
“We believe we have a mandate. That mandate has certain issues that must be addressed. If they are, I’ll put it out for acceptance, if they’re not I’ll put it out for rejection,” Workman said.
Union members will have the final say on whether a contract offer is accepted or rejected.
The Nunavut government currently has about 60 per cent of its positions filled. The government needs to beef up its benefits package and improve working conditions if that figure is to improve, Workman says.
The current collective agreement, inherited from the old government of the Northwest Territories, represents the needs of workers in the Northwest Territories, who have access to highways, Workman said.
“Our salaries and benefits are not conducive to supporting a full-fledged public service. It’s a road block. That’s why we’re at 60 per cent,” he said.
The union has also said it will negotiate for improved working conditions for the 1,100 workers it represents, such as counselling programs for employees facing legal, monetary or other problems.
During the round of negotiations union and government officials agreed on a number of technical changes to the collective agreement such as simplifying language.
Negotiations will continue after the Christmas break. Negotiations are scheduled for Jan. 21-25, Feb. 14-17 and March 13-17. The current collective agreement expires March 31, 2000.