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Kinngait hamlet warns of lockout if union insists on wage increases or more financial benefits

The Hamlet of Kinngait says its latest proposal to the Nunavut Employees Union (NEU) for a collective agreement is a good one that values its employees given current circumstances and resources.
A photo of the hamlet office in Kinngait. Mayor Timoon Toonoo says a work stoppage is likely if the Nunavut Employees Union continues to insist on increased financial benefits for employees. Trevor Wright/NNSL photo

The Hamlet of Kinngait says its latest proposal to the Nunavut Employees Union (NEU) for a collective agreement is a good one that values its employees given current circumstances and resources.

“The pay and allowance increases that the hamlet offered in this collective agreement are higher than the increases in the last collective agreement. This will result in more money in the pockets of employees,” stated Kinngait Mayor Timoon Toonoo in a Nov. 29 news release.

Current outstanding issues for the NEU include having different wording for discretionary leave, particularly with regards to harvesting; the removal of rights to about one-third of the collective agreement articles for employees accepting positions directly funded by the Government of Nunavut; and to have planned wage increases match levels of ongoing inflation.

There are currently fewer than 25 employees working for the hamlet with almost half of the community’s positions vacant.

The hamlet’s current offer in each year of a five-year collective agreement would include pay increases of one, one, 1.5, two and 2.5 per cent for each year respectively, more than prior proposals, according to the municipality. The NEU’s position is that it should take into account current inflation rates. Inflation rates in Iqaluit are around five per cent and it’s expected to be higher in communities such as Kinngait.

While there has been an agreement for 10 per cent market adjustment in certain male-dominated classiciations, the NEU is continuing to argue for wage increases. Two times over the last six years the hamlet has had to adjust wages due to the municipality paying less than the Nunavut minimum wage.

“The Municipality of Kinngait is one of the lowest-paid hamlets in all of Nunavut,” wrote James Kaylor, communications officer with the NEU in a statement to Nunavut News.

The NEU is also seeking a market adjustment for female-dominated jobs, such as those in offices.

“The office workers are already saying they cannot afford to buy their normal groceries anymore,” Kaylor added. “Kinngait is on the bottom rung, paying among the lowest wages of any community in Nunavut.”

The hamlet is proposing to make discretionary leave dependent on operational requirements, such as ensuring that water delivery is covered.

“The hamlet is not proposing to take this away from employees,” said Toonoo. “The hamlet is only proposing that, in situations where the hamlet needs a particularly employee to work, then that employee must stay at work, instead of taking the leave — but as soon as the hamlet doesn’t need the employee at work anymore, the employee could then take the leave.”

The NEU’s position is that for Nunavut workers, having access to country food makes the difference between having to go hungry or not. The proposed change to discretionary leave could change that.

“Workers in Kinngait have been using the current discretionary leave language in the collective agreement to go hunting to feed themselves, their families and the community for many years,” said NEU president Jason Rochon on negotiations with the hamlet in early November. “It seems like current management wants to re-colonize the community instead of accepting the needs of its people and their traditional culture. They should be ashamed.”

However, Toonoo contends that “this is a misunderstanding of Inuit culture. Having employees do important work for our community is not a colonial attitude.”

But the NEU says it hasn’t been made aware of any complaints at the bargaining table of employees taking advantage of harvesting opportunities instead of delivering water.

Northern allowance

The hamlet is also proposing to replace the existing settlement, housing and vacation allowance with a Northern allowance offering about $5,000 more for employees overall compared to the other allowances.

While the hamlet’s Northern allowance can’t compete with the GN Northern allowance, it presents a “big increase for employees,” according to Toonoo. “More more than employees received the last time we bargained the collective agreement.”

The municipality is looking to have a responsible budget, according to Toonoo’s statement, and is aiming to “not make decisions that would lead it back into a deficit.”

“The hamlet is willing to come back to the bargaining table,” he added.

However, “if the union continues to insist on greater wage increases or other financial benefits, then there is a good risk of a strike or lockout.”

It appears there will continue to be an impasse between the hamlet and the union on the financial end of the negotiations, with the NEU maintaining that the hamlet’s current offer is not enough.

“In the current economic climate, a raise of a few cents per hour is not sufficient for employees of the hamlet to keep food in the table,” wrote Kaylor. “Everyone knows how much prices have risen, and this is especially true in the small communities across Nunavut.”

The last collective agreement expired on March 31, 2020. Negotiations on a replacement began this past June.