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OPPORTUNITIES NORTH: Nunavut endures a couple of strikes

A couple of strikes have occurred in Nunavut in 2023.
The unionized workers of the Iqaluit Housing Authority have been picketing for larger wage increases and better working conditions since March 17. From left, Heela Kango, Keeny Enuaraq, Joanasie Kilabuk, Paul Gordon, Ken Braun (kneeling), Daniel Kolola, NEU President Jason Rochon and Tracy Curley. Trevor Wright/NNSL photo

A couple of strikes have occurred in Nunavut in 2023.

More than a dozen unionized workers with the Iqaluit Housing Authority (IHA) walked out on March 17 — after a lockout notice was served by the employer — and the staff were still on strike into late May, although the IHA, on May 24, cancelled its lockout and made a revised offer of 7.25 per cent over five years (2020-2024) and a 3.5 per cent lump sum payment upon ratification.

Represented by the Nunavut Employees Union (NEU), which has close to 4,500 members across the territory, and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the unionized IHA workers rejected an April offer of a seven per cent increase over the same five-year period and a one-time 2.8 per cent lump sum payment to counteract inflation.

“The cost of living in Iqaluit has dramatically increased over time, more so in the last year. We are looking for a fair increase in salaries to be able to afford the increasing cost of living,” said Nicky Nauyuk, an IHA plumber and a bargaining member with the NEU and PSAC.

The employer brought in replacement workers, which raised the ire of NEU president Jason Rochon.

“The Iqaluit Housing Authority should halt the use of scabs and come back to the bargaining table with a real mandate to negotiate better working conditions for the people who provide vital services to Iqaluit residents,” Rochon said.

PSAC called on the federal government to introduce provisions in the Canadian Labour Code that limit the use of replacement workers.

Rochon added the IHA has “serious recruitment and retention issues” and employees are leaving to find other, better jobs in Iqaluit.

The Nunavut Housing Corporation declined to comment, other than to indicate that services will still be delivered to housing tenants in Iqaluit.

A significant development occurred on July 28 when Lorne Kusugak, minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation (NHC), announced that six NHC staff would replace directors on the IHA board as a temporary measure in an effort to resolve the labour dispute. Then new directors would be put in place after the situation is concluded.

Federal workers sign new deal

The other strike affecting Nunavut was shorter-lived. Close to 600 federal workers in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon joined nearly 155,000 of their Government of Canada colleagues in going on strike as of April 19, which lasted until the first week of May.

Treasury Board and Canada Revenue Agency staff accepted a 12.6 per cent compounded wage increase over four years, retroactive to 2021, and a one-time pensionable payment of $2,500. Their last raise had come in June of 2020.

Based on an average Treasury Board worker’s salary of $67,305, the wage increase will result in an additional $23,000 over the four-year period, PSAC told its membership. It will also raise the average salary to $75,777 in 2024, according to the union.

QEC, employees come to terms

Qulliq Energy Corporation (QEC) and the Nunavut Employees Union (NEU) signed a new collective agreement on Dec. 9.

The four-year deal gives more than 160 workers a nine per cent raise by 2024. There are also improvements to leave provisions and “operational enhancements,” according to the union. The Nunavut Northern Allowance amount per community will be the same as in the NEU’s existing agreement with the territorial government.

NEU president Jason Rochon referred to the outcome as a “fair deal.”

The agreement, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2021, is in effect until Dec. 31, 2024.

Kinngait hamlet workers on the verge

Employees with the Hamlet of Kinngait voted in early November to go on strike if they couldn’t reach adequate terms with the municipality.

Efforts involving a mediator failed to help the parties arrive at a resolution.

Yet as of late May, unionized hamlet staff in Kinngait remained on the job, working without a contract since March 2020.

For more stories from Opportunities North 2023, click this link:

About the Author: Derek Neary

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