Teachers vote down three-year wage deal

Iqaluit teacher calls rejection a vote of non-confidence in the union.



IQALUIT — Nunavut’s teachers have rejected a tentative three-year collective agreement worked out between the Federation of Nunavut Teachers (FNT) and the territorial government.

Sixty-eight per cent of teachers who cast ballots rejected the deal, which included an 8.5-per-cent salary increase over three years, a 10 per cent boost to the northern allowance, and other changes.

Ninety-five per cent of eligible union members cast ballots.

Last week the government announced a 15 per cent increase to northern allowances for all government workers, above and beyond what it had negotiated with teachers.

But that wasn’t enough to sway FNT members.

The union’s executive had originally recommended that teachers ratify the tentative deal.

But later they urged members to reject the agreement after learning that the government plans to hand out cash bonuses to nurses, as part of a recruitment and retention plan outside of the collective agreement.

“The government has got the message that where they had drawn their line at the time was inadequate, so both sides are going to have to go back and try and work something out,” said FNT president Donna Stephania.

The union now says it has a “good indication” of what its members expect and it wants to return to the bargaining table with the Nunavut government as soon as possible.

No confidence in union

But, more importantly, the no vote indicates teachers’ lack of confidence in the union, said one Nunavut teacher.

John Maurice, a teacher at Iqaluit’s Nakasuk school, is calling for a change of guard at the union’s executive level.

“It’s a real vote of non-confidence,” Maurice said. “They were the ones that negotiated that agreement. They wasted a lot of time and money,” Maurice said.

“Why not establish a new bargaining team or a new direction? It’s time for a fresh start.”

Maurice believes the union pulled its support for the agreement only after it realized most teachers were preparing to vote it down

“Most teachers in Nunavut want effective representation. Most teachers in Nunavut want an association that bargains for some sort of agreement that they can feel comfortable with accepting,” he said.

“I don’t think most teachers feel comfortable with this agreement.”

Classroom sizes

For example, he said a three-year agreement isn’t long enough and the deal failed to address the pressing issue of classroom size.

“I don’t think most teachers are comfortable with large classroom sizes,” Maurice said. “They wanted some sort of consistent and clear prognosis on what was going to happen in the future vis-a-vis classroom sizes and working conditions,”

Maurice is now calling for a new union executive, and a general meeting to devise a new bargaining strategy.

But Maurice doesn’t think executive members will resign, and he now hopes a new executive is elected next year. Maurice said he plans to run in that election.

Stephania said the federation back-tracked on its support for the deal because of the bonuses the government allotted to nurses

“It was based on the whole issue of our attempt to negotiate at the table some sort of bonus for our members. Then there was subsequent bonuses going to nurses, we felt was not what we had been told at the table by our bargaining team and that was the reason for our withdrawal.”

Finance Minister Kelvin Ng welcomed the federation’s wish to go back to the negotiating table.

“We’re hopeful of course, and happy we’re going back to the table and to try to resolve any outstanding issues or concerns they may have as a result of the vote,” Ng said.

The government’s Financial Management Board tells the negotiating team the final amount it can offer during negotiations. If the negotiating team wants to offer up even more, it must go back to the FMB for approval, Ng said.

To date the FMB hasn’t increased the bargaining team’s limits. Ng said a lot will depend on the union’s new demands.

When asked whether the teacher’s rejection has affected the government’s willingness to negotiate with the FNT, Ng would only say “we’re back at the bargaining table.”

Ng did say the government never considered locking teachers out. “We never even looked at that. They’ve indicated they want to go back to table and so do we.”

No legal strike yet

Teachers aren’t yet in a legal strike position. Before that can happen, both sides must sign an essential services agreement and meet with a mediator.

Binding arbitration is not included in the negotiating process.

This weekend the union will meet with the government’s director of labour relations, Garry Pinto. The union plans to hammer out a schedule for new negotiations and work on an essential services agreement.

But Stephania said the union wants to return to the bargaining table and avert any job action.

“Our objective is still to get a negotiated agreement with the government and we’re hoping that we can work that out.”

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