NEU slams GN over cultural issues

“We’ve made these points but the employer isn’t changing”


As their third round of contract talks with the Government of Nunavut drew to close last month, officials with the Nunavut Employees Union say they’re frustrated by the GN’s refusal to talk about Inuit culture in the workplace, as well as numerous bread-and-butter issues.

Among its lengthy list of demands, the NEU is asking the government for special “harvesting and cultural leave” for Inuit employees, and to designate Nunavut Day and National Aboriginal Day as holidays.

“These are not huge amounts of leave that will corrupt the government service. They are small things that can address something that is causing conflict in the workplace right now,” said Mitch Taylor, vice-president of the NEU.

The NEU’s last contract with the GN expired April 1, 2003. Talks on a new wage-and-benefit deal, which will cover about 1,750 GN workers, didn’t get going until last December.

At the opening of the first round, NEU negotiators presented their GN counterparts with a 238-page document containing a list of demands.

As well as “cultural leave” for Inuit employees, the union is asking for a better health and dental plan, and a northern allowance system that’s calibrated by family size, and by whether the employee is a homeowner.

“We remain hopeful that we can get a collective agreement and northern allowance that acknowledges that it costs more to raise families,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the union believes that its northern allowance proposal – which would give bigger allowances to people with dependent families – would help the government find and keep staff, especially in the small communities.

“What we have come in with is a bunch of things that we thought represent a moderate, middle-of-the-road approach that would help the GN improve their recruitment and retention. We’ve made those points over and over again, but the employer isn’t changing,” Taylor said.

Before reaching their last collective agreement, signed in 2001, the NEU held out until the last moment for better vacation travel benefits within the northern allowance.

They reject the GN’s final offer, and recommended members say no to it in a ratification vote, held in May 2001.

But NEU members rejected their union executive’s advice, and voted to accept the deal, which provided an improved northern allowance system, especially for people living in smaller communities.

That prevented a Nunavut-wide strike by all unionized GN workers.

This time around, the union says it consulted its members widely before adopting a negotiating position, which now stresses cultural and family issues.

“We’re supposed to be striving to make everything in our government, and I would presume the collective agreement, more culturally sensitive. We’re trying for cultural and harvesting days. We’re trying to get Inuit Qaujimatuqangit article included. We’re trying to get a definition of ‘extended family’ that works for the North, but we’re just getting turned down,” Taylor said.

Another union idea that’s going nowhere is a proposal to create an “ombudsman” to settle disputes between employees and the government without having to use the time-consuming grievance procedures in the collective agreement.

“An omsbudsman would be a GN employee who would actually act as a first court, if you will, to hear issues and to resolve conflict,” Taylor said.

“That’s what the collective agreement is supposed to be all about.”

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