While the Government of Nunavut recently celebrated a new contract with the territory’s teachers, Nunavut’s largest union remains without a deal.
And Nunavut Employees Union (NEU) president Jason Rochon isn’t mincing words about the impact of going more than three years without new terms, which affects close to 5,000 employees.
“The NEU is growing tired of promises and public statements from the GN that lead to nothing,” Rochon stated. “Prior to the holiday season, the NEU reached out to the GN on numerous occasions to set dates to talk. We made it clear that we would be available on any date and for any format — in-person, online or other — that worked for the GN and their bargaining team.
“Prior to that, we publicly offered to drop our bad-faith bargaining claim, currently stalled in the court system, in exchange for restarting bargaining talks. This also resulted in nothing. Most recently we sent an email to Mr. (Adam Arreak) Lightstone’s office, which, at the time of this statement, remains unanswered. At this point the NEU has one statement to make to the GN: name the date, location and format to restart the bargaining talks and we will be there in good faith.”
Arreak Lightstone, who was sworn-in as minister of Human Resources in late November, acknowledged that no negotiations sessions have taken place or been scheduled with the NEU since he began his tenure. He cited several factors that have affected the timeline for bargaining, such as required changes to the negotiating team, public health measures related to to Covid-19 and the government shutdown over the Christmas holidays.
“We look forward to continuing negotiations and setting another bargaining session with the Nunavut Employees Union,” the minister stated. “A new collective agreement with the Nunavut Employees Union is a high priority. We value the work our employees do, especially during this current pandemic. We want a fair agreement with appropriate benefits. Earlier this month we signed a collective agreement with the Nunavut Teachers’ Association. The negotiating teams only took four days to reach a tentative agreement. I’m hopeful once we meet with the (NEU), we will be able to move forward quickly.”
Rochon pointed that that since October 2021, the NEU has reached three agreements with employers “with far less resources than the GN despite the challenges of Covid-19, holiday and public health safety closures. Additionally, we have scheduled the start of bargaining talks with the Qulliq Energy Corporation despite these same challenges.”
In October, Rochon said he wouldn’t hesitate to call a strike vote, if that’s the route that NEU membership wants to take.
“Whatever our members want, I’ll be there with them,” he said at the time.
During negotiations that took place several months ago, the GN and the NEU were reportedly close to agreeing on wages — approximately one per cent apart — but still had to overcome significant differences on Northern allowance. As well, the union sought five paid days off for public servants who need to recover from domestic violence incidents. The territorial government currently offers up to 17 weeks of leave in such circumstances, but all unpaid.