The territorial government has refused offers from the Union of Northern Workers to agree to binding arbitration to settle the outstanding labour negotiations between with the union, GNWT and the Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC), the union states in a news release Tuesday.
“We know families are worried. For over three years, our members have been working hard, making compromises and trying to reach a fair deal,” stated UNW president Todd Parsons in the news release. “Binding arbitration is an evenhanded process agreed to by both sides. Unfortunately, the government said, ‘no.’”
In an email response, Todd Sasaki, senior communications officer for the Department of Finance, did not specifically confirm that the government rejected binding mediation between the UNW and GNWT, but stated the government plans to follow through with scheduled mediation talks Feb. 8-9.
“In our view if the parties are unable to conclude an agreement at the upcoming mediation, the GNWT and the UNW should be jointly requesting that Mr. Ready (the mediator) provide the parties with recommendations to resolve the outstanding issues,” Sasaki stated in the email.
According to the union’s news release, the GNWT would not budge on many key issues. This is not the first time the government has refused binding arbitration, the union stated.
“Unfortunately, the government has refused to even agree to a fair process that could help us reach a fair deal. The government is being dishonest and unaccountable, saying one thing in public then acting a different way behind closed doors,” stated Parsons. “That just isn’t right.”
This statement comes one day after the UNW slammed a territorial government document that claimed it had offered the union a deal during mediation talks in October that would’ve increased workers’ wages on a scale higher than the rate of inflation.
The UNW issued a statement Monday saying the document “contains misleading figures and a number of falsehoods.” The union accuses the GNWT of bargaining in bad faith through media and that “this dishonest attempt to mislead their own workers is shameful.”
In response to UNW statement, Sasaki stated in an email that the report is factual.
“There is nothing in the release that is not factual. We believe that transparency is important and at this critical juncture it is particularly important for employees to understand the positions,” stated Sasaki in an email.
The government document outlines specific plans for wage increases for employees, including 2.6 per cent annual step increases in addition to a 1.4 per cent cent government-wide increase in years three and four of a five-year contract. The document calls for a 1.7 per cent increase in year five but no salary increases in years one and two.
Step increases are incremental increases given to staff based on experience on the job, which are separate from overall annual increases negotiated with the union.
In Monday’s statement, UNW president Todd Parsons is quoted saying the GNWT numbers are misleading
“They base their numbers on a five year agreement — but a five year agreement isn’t even on the table,” stated Parsons. “They use their twisted numbers to claim to reach the cost of living, but it’s simply false.”
The government acknowledges in the document that the step increases would only apply to employees who have not reached the maximum salary for their position. The UNW claims that 2,000 government workers have already reached that maximum step and for these thousands of employees “zero really means zero.”
The document claims these increases would amount to 9.2 per cent over five years, as long as that employee remains in the same position for those five years. This would see their wages increase at a rate higher than the rate of inflation, which is forecast at 8.6 per cent over five years.
The two parties have been pointing fingers since last October’s mediation talks, when the GNWT said the UNW was misrepresenting the GNWT financial situation.
The document also makes no mention of job security, which has been a sticking point for the union since mediation began. The UNW claims “too many public service workers are being treated as relief, casuals or terms, with terms and casuals often being extended over and over instead of properly staffing.”
Strike training has been taking place since mediation failed in October, but the UNW insists they do not want to strike.
“We know you’re worried and families are worried about the possibility of a strike. We understand. We have tried to avoid a strike and will continue to do so,” the union said in Monday’s statement.