No money left for union negotiations, KRG says

Threat of Liberal government cuts leaves little room in union talks



Management at the Kativik Regional Government warned this week that a tight operating budget plus the likelihood of provincial funding cuts leaves little room in future talks with its union.

Jobie Tukkiapik, KRG’s lead negotiator since September 2002 and the department director for employment training, income support and child care services, said this week that the regional government simply does not have the funds to improve its collective agreement offer.

“There’s not a whole lot of flexibility on the management side, especially with the new provincial government and all the cuts that are being mentioned,” Tukkiapik said.

“What money we may have had now may be cut because there’s a whole bunch of different agreements, I think we have about 35 different agreements to run various services within KRG, and I think almost half of them need to be renegotiated and a good portion of those are with the Quebec government.”

On May 29, more than three-quarters of union members attending a special general assembly rejected management’s final collective agreement offer. Negotiations for a new collective agreement have been ongoing since January 2001.

Last week, Neal Clunas, president of the employees union, said the union had sent another counter-proposal to management. Clunas said the union’s chief concerns were that the final offer’s proposed salary scale, first committed to by management in 2002, would be out of date by the time it would be implemented in 2005; that the northern allowance was grossly uncompetitive and that 50 per cent of employees would have their salaries frozen for the next few years.

Unlike municipal governments, which can raise funds through taxes, KRG relies solely on the government for operational funds and the agreement between the Quebec government and KRG setting the organization’s operating funds is among those heading back to the negotiating table. This means KRG may have little money to meet the union’s latest demands and maintain regional services.

But, as Tukkiapik puts it, the union may have to make concessions in other areas so that management can offer across-the-board salary increases.

“We were very serious in negotiations that were going on,” he said. “We came back to them after having reviewed a counter-proposal and we asked them, ‘This is what we can offer, please tell us where else we can save money and are you willing to trade anything else in the benefits that you have?” Tukkiapik said.

According to Tukkiapik, the union never responded to the request.

Tukkiapik also said the union is glossing over the many benefits contained in management’s final offer.

For example, the benefits package is extremely competitive, he said, not to mention expensive for management to maintain. It includes such bonuses as three trips a year per person to a maximum of eight trips per family for all employees, four weeks holiday and two weeks paid Christmas vacation and cargo costs.

And though 50 per cent of employees will not see a raise in the next few years while the salary scale is implemented, the other 50 per cent will.

Luc Harvey, the assistant director general for KRG, said some employees will see raises between $8,000 and $9,000 a year. The salary freeze for some employees is necessary to implement the new scale, he said.

“I don’t want to say that these people were overpaid. But with new the classification, where they were put, their salary was higher than what it should be, compared with the other ones,” Harvey said.

Harvey said that the salary freeze is also not permanent.

Both Harvey and Tukkiapik said they don’t believe a strike is inevitable at this point. Harvey said management would write a formal response this week and expects to have a meeting with union negotiators in the coming weeks.

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