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LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY BRIEFS: Union, GNWT could resume talks this fall

Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers, speaks to protesters outside the legislative assembly in The Union of Northern Workers is hoping to head into mediation with the GNWT this fall.

Sidney Cohen/NNSL photo
Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers, speaks to protesters outside the legislative assembly in March. The union hopes to return to the negotiating table with the GNWT this fall.

“We have a ... tentative agreement on who the mediator will be on this file and right now we're exploring dates that are in the fall,” Todd Parsons, the president of the union representing territorial government workers, said Thursday.

“I'm very optimistic that both parties are committed to trying to reach a deal.”

After strike votes in communities across the territory this winter, nearly 70 per cent of members who cast ballots were in favour of a strike should the GNWT not make a new wage offer.

The government is proposing a four-year collective agreement with no wage increases for the first two years, followed by a one per cent hike in the third year, and a 1.1 per cent raise in the fourth year.

Unionized government workers have been without a collective agreement with the GNWT for more than two years.

On May 25, the MLA for Hay River North said it is beginning to seem like a strike is more likely than prompt resolution.

R.J. Simpson took cabinet to task for refusing to budge on wage issue.

The GNWT's offer, he said, is “the negotiating equivalent of saying, 'Here's a quarter. Call someone who cares.'”

Todd Sasaki, the Finance department spokesperson, said the government is ready to return to the bargaining table at any time, with or without a mediator.

In the event of a strike, employees would not receive pay or their Northern Allowance for their time off the job.

Workers who participate in regular strike activities would get around $117 a day from the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

The continuation of dental benefits and medical travel would be determined by the GNWT.

People on maternity or paternity leave will continue to be payed according to their leave agreements unless they choose to picket or participate in other strike activities, in which case their allowance would be cut off.

It is unclear right now which jobs would fall under essential or emergency services in the event of a strike.

Essential and emergency service positions would be determined in talks between the GNWT and the union and guided by the Public Service Act.

Teachers, doctors, and members of the judiciary would continue to work during a UNW strike.

Unionized workers in the justice and healthcare systems would report to work only if their jobs are deemed to be essential.

Board to feds and GNWT: Plan for Northern jobs at Giant cleanup

The independent body overseeing the clean up of Giant Mine says the governments of Northwest Territories and Canada are not doing enough to ensure northerners will benefit from the $1-billion project.

In a May 24 letter, the Giant Mine Oversight Board called on the two governments to immediately begin work on a socio-economic strategy that will bring employment, training and business opportunities to northerners.

“There is a real concern that the economic stream created by the remediation project will not substantially benefit the affected communities, let alone the NWT, and that employment and contract opportunities will benefit southerners disproportionally,” stated the letter addressed to the federal minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and the NWT minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment.

With remediation work set to begin in about two years, and with employment and contracting processes already underway, “the timeframe for developing the socio-economic strategy is now,” states the letter.

The territory's three major diamond mines have non-binding socio-economic agreements with the GNWT that set northern and northern Indigenous employment targets.

However there are no penalties if the mines do not meet these targets – which none are, according to their most recent reports to the GNWT.

The INAC-run Giant Mine Remediation Project spent more than $40 million in 2016-17, but of the employees and contractors involved, only 23 per cent were Northern and just 4 per cent Indigenous.

“Our government needs to step up the pressure on the federal government to make sure the people who suffer Giant's legacy at least get some benefits from the planned remediation,” Kevin O'Reilly, the MLA for Frame Lake, told the legislative assembly on May 31.

Robert C. McLeod, the minister of Finance, said the government is in working with INAC on opportunities for NWT residents, and that work should be finished this summer.

The Giant Mine Remediation Project team will report annually on the socio-economic benefits associated with the project, he added.

In an interview on Monday, Matt Spence, INAC's regional director in NWT, said his department is in the process of developing a strategy to ensure there are economic opportunities for Yellowknives Dene First Nation and Tlicho citizens.

Government takes second look at land transfer tax

The government is reconsidering its plan for a land transfer tax.

After resistance from regular MLAs and the public, the minister of Finance pulled back somewhat from statements in February in which he implied a land transfer tax was on the way.

“There has been some opposition to this,” Robert C. McLeod said on Friday of the proposal for a new tax to bring in some badly-needed revenue, “So I don't think we've landed on a decision on this yet.”

In his budget address, Robert C. McLeod said the government would be developing proposals this year for a new levy on the price of a home, vacant lot or commercial building in the Northwest Territories.

He said the land transfer tax could bring in $3.1 million a year.

If the government scraps the land transfer tax, McLeod said last week, it will have to come up with a different revenue-generating measure to replace it.

The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce is strongly against the proposed tax, saying it would dampen real estate activity, discourage people from moving to the NWT, and increase the already high cost of living.

“Unless we hear that it's 100 per cent off the table and not going ahead, we're going to remain concerned,” Deneen Everett, executive director of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday.

The Yellowknife chamber has banded together with the NWT Chamber of Commerce, the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines and the NWT and Nunavut Construction Association to oppose the proposed tax.

Everett said it is the first time since she joined chamber in early 2014 that those four organizations have rallied around a single issue.

“That just goes to speak to how important this issue is for our community,” she said.