The Government of Nunavut attempted to “leverage their incompetence at the bargaining table” by almost halving the amount offered for Nunavut Northern allowance, the Nunavut Employees Union is alleging, based on documents obtained in a court case.

The territorial government reduced a $33 million offer to just $17 million, blaming it on a miscalculation.

The union is accusing the GN of deliberately withholding knowledge of that Northern allowance error until just four days before mediation resumed on Oct. 28, 2019 rather than revealing it on June 19 of that year when the territorial government became aware of the mistake.

“It doesn’t take four months to send one email and it definitely doesn’t take four months to pick up the phone,” said newly-elected NEU president Jason Rochon.

As evidence of the delay in communications, the NEU points to the GN’s seeking advice from its lawyer on the matter, as well as an internal email from Department of Human Resources deputy minister Sheila Kolola asking, “On another note, how is the bargaining team going to tell the NEU about the miscalculation in the NNA (Nunavut Northern allowance)?” In addition, senior civil servants were discussing the matter into late September, according to government documents that were turned over to the union.

Rochon contends that the GN’s last-minute approach was intended to “shock us into accepting an unfair deal.”

“Their strategy caused a bargaining impasse and has left our members without a contract,” he said.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever trust the GN but I know I need to work with them because our members deserve a lot better than what they’ve been getting,” he said, repeatedly stating that he’s tired of “pretty words” from the Premier and senior GN officials, who publicly thanked civil servants for their efforts in fighting Covid-19 but haven’t offered agreeable terms for a new collective agreement.

Rochon wasn’t prepared to say whether the union will insist on the $33 million for Northern allowance being restored, or whether $17 million will be the negotiations starting point when bargaining resumes. That will depend on the advice of the union’s negotiators, he said.

The Department of Human Resources was unable to provide immediate comment on Friday afternoon. Assistant deputy minister Grant McMichael recently told Nunavut News that “the GN does not comment on specific financial aspects of an ongoing collective agreement negotiation.”

He also stated that the miscalculation was an “unintentional human mathematical error.”

The union, which represents more than 4,000 GN employees, has been working under an expired collective bargaining agreement for the past three years. The NEU took the territorial government to court in 2019, accusing the GN of “bad faith” bargaining. The case is still pending in court.

Northern allowance has not changed for GN workers in 12 years. Rochon noted that inflation has raised prices substantially since then, particularly during the pandemic. In addition, he said some union members, like others in Iqaluit, are now forced to buy cases of drinking water for $45 to $55, which is not affordable for some.

“People were already living paycheque to paycheque before this happened,” said Rochon.

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