The honeymoon is over
Hard work ahead for union and GN

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Mar 06/00) - Things aren't going quite as well as Doug Workman and the Nunavut Employees Union wanted them to.

With the third round of contract negotiations a distant memory and the fourth and final -- originally scheduled for the middle of March -- put off until additional research can be done, a ratified collective agreement for GN employees isn't going to be a reality any time soon.

To complicate matters, the expiry date on the current collective agreement is coming down the pipe fast -- March 31.

Bearing all that in mind, Workman, the president of the NEU, said the next thing to do was to prepare an essential-services agreement and to get ready for a possible strike.

"You never can tell what's going to happen in the final rounds and you have to be ready, be prepared," said Workman.

"You have to have an essential-services agreement in place."

Workman said negotiations on such an agreement began last week.

An essential-services agreement is part of the process when negotiating a collective agreement. It lays out who will continue to work in the event of a strike by government employees.

Workman added that such preparedness was a good idea in light of the GN's attitude towards the negotiations.

"You have a choice not to do it at all, but it would be very risky at this point given the tone of negotiations, especially the last round," said Workman.

He also said the government made it very clear they did not agree with the union's proposed Northern allowance benefit.

Called the Nunavut Equalization Allowance, it is based on a formula derived from Statistics Canada. The union is seeking an 80 per cent increase, including hikes in vacation travel assistance, bereavement leaves and ultimate removal.

Workman said the proposal was not met with open arms by the GN.

"They didn't like our numbers," said Workman.

As both sides continue their research, and work to come up with a date for the final round of negotiations, union members plan to write letters to the GN asking them to change their minds while union executives will travel to the communities briefing the membership about the possible strike.

As for the employer, Garry Pinto, the GN's director of labour relations, said they were ready to keep plugging away even if the current agreement expires.

"We'll just agree to continue with the terms and conditions until such time as we have a new contract ratified," said Pinto.

As for when that will be, he was unable to say.

"Your guess is as good as mine," he said.

And while Workman admitted to being disappointed by the situation at hand, he said he wasn't without optimism.

"We still have hope. What we need to do as a union is motivate our employer to change its position. That's what we're trying to do."