Nunavut Employees Union should share its idea of ‘fair wages’

Unionized housing workers went on strike Friday over wages but haven’t publicly said how much they’re after

The 23 unionized workers who are employed by the Iqaluit Housing Authority have been without a collective agreement since August 2020, when the previous agreement expired. (File photo)

By Corey Larocque

Housing workers on strike in Iqaluit owe it to the public to put their cards on the table and say what they consider “fair wages” to be.

The strike by about 23 members of the Nunavut Employees Union has both broad implications for the territory’s economy and narrow implications for Iqaluit Housing Authority’s tenants.

Early Friday morning, unionized employees of the Iqaluit Housing Authority went on strike. The labour dispute has been building since last August when talks aimed at a new contract broke down. The previous agreement between the housing authority and its unionized workers expired in 2020.

The strike literally hits people where they live. The striking employees normally provide services like maintenance and support to people living in Iqaluit public housing. The housing authority has reassured the public those services would be provided, but as of Friday it had not explained how that would happen.

When the union issued a 72-hour strike notice earlier this week, NEU representatives told Nunatsiaq News the union was seeking “fair wages” for its members.

But they haven’t publicly stated what percentage increase they believe would be fair.

Earlier in the week, Public Service Alliance of Canada regional vice-president Lorraine Rousseau did divulge that management offered annual increases of 1.25 per cent and 1.5 per cent. But the union hasn’t disclosed what its own wage proposal was when the two sides were still at the bargaining table — way back in August 2022.

On Friday, NEU president Rochon said the union’s priority now is to get the employer back to the bargaining table.

No doubt that’s true. But getting back to the bargaining table is just a means to an end — to renew the negotiations about wages.

It’s only fair that the public should know, because they’re going to have to pay for that increase — either through the rents that tenants pay or through the financial support the government gives.

This labour dispute could set the tone for other public sector settlements. Municipal workers in Kinngait, for example, are bracing for a strike against the hamlet.

Nunavut — like the rest of Canada — has been feeling inflation’s pinch. It’s understandable for the housing workers to want a new contract to address that.

When talks broke down, the annual inflation rate was about seven per cent. Half a year later, inflation has dropped to about six per cent and some analysts predict it could drop back to three per cent by the end of 2023.

And Nunavut — like the rest of Canada — is facing a labour shortage, generally. That would seem to be in the union’s favour and a factor Iqaluit Housing Authority needs to take into consideration. Give the workers what they want, or risk losing them.

There’s a lot at stake in this labour dispute, which is all the more reason for both sides to be forthcoming about what they’re fighting over.

 

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(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by Solidarity Forever on

    The GN and its subordinate organizations have been offering less-than-inflation wage increases for many years. And they wonder why they have a 30% vacancy rate for their positions. On top of that, they generally don’t treat their employees well. Everything is secret. Employees are considered to know nothing and to be little more than “position holders”.
    .
    People usually behave the way they think they are expected to behave. Treat your employees like you don’t expect them to be able to do anything and usually they will do nothing. Treat them as valued members of a team that is trying to get something done and usually they will help the team accomplish its goal.
    .
    This strike is about money. But its about much more. Its also about respect and leadership and teamwork.
    .
    As for negotiating through the media, I don’t think so. Poker, anyone?

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    • Posted by Amen on

      I also found out that my health benefits are crap compared to Ontario or BC. My friends working similar jobs have twice the dental coverage that I have here.

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  2. Posted by NEU is weak on

    People leave Nunavut rather than try to fix the dumpster fire that is the NEU. After multiple years they managed to negotiate a pay cut for all GN workers. More people left last year than ever.
    .
    The idea that PSAC knows or cares about northern issues is a joke. We all know this strike will be meaningless and that they’ll accept the joke of a pay “increase” sun inflation like they did for GN. There will be a secret vote and no one but the executive will be able to speak their mind about the options. The sooner union execs finish the negotiation the sooner they can go back to doing absolutely nothing.

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  3. Posted by Molly Maguire on

    What a great idea this is !!
    So it is honesty with workers that you want ?
    The people of Nunavut should demand that all the annual salaries of GN workers, and the
    N.T.I., the ITK, and transient workers from the South be made public.
    Petition M.L.A and M.P to make this happen.
    Workers unite.

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    • Posted by Bert Rose on

      The collective agreements are published and freely available incuding salaries and various allowances.

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  4. Posted by Fair Wages on

    Fair Wages stand in contrast to Starvation Wages.
    .
    Fair Wages begin at an amount adequate to support a family.
    .
    Enough to pay rent, buy food, pay for transportation, buy clothes, afford a few luxuries, even after inflation. If the work is necessary, but the employer cannot afford Fair Wages, then there’s a problem with the way the business is organized or with how the economy is structured. Neither of these issues are the responsibility of the worker.
    .
    Corey, what do you consider to be Fair Wages? Are you receiving a Fair Wage, or are you doing your job just because you either enjoy it or feel it is necessary and someone needs to do it? In either case, if you are not getting a Fair Wage, how long will you stay?

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  5. Posted by Non union on

    Do these unions know the reality of most of these workplaces? So many NEU members wouldn’t last a week working a real job down south.

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    • Posted by Tired on

      If that were true then we wouldn’t be competing with and losing to southern economies. I doubt many people are leaving for low end clerical work in Ontario but lots of skilled and qualified professionals are leaving. And it isn’t taking much for people to bail either; it’s become obvious that the pay is all that sets Nunavut apart from anywhere else. And understandably so.

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  6. Posted by S on

    I can’t speak for NEU-equivalent staff in the south or any other jurisdiction for that matter.

    However the quality – intellect, creativity, ethic, and dedication – of NEU employees and elected representatives is as low as can be conceived for any that I’ve encountered in my long career

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    • Posted by No on

      This commenter should be ivestigated for bad comment like this I detect racist undertones

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