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Union prepares early for negotiations

By Carolyn Sloan
Northern News Services
Published Friday, January 9, 2009

NUNAVUT - The Nunavut Employees Union is getting a head start on preparing for the next round of collective bargaining talks with the Government of Nunavut in the fall.

The last time the NEU and Government of Nunavut negotiated a collective agreement, which was signed in June 2008, it took a year and a half to ratify.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Doug Workman, president of Nunavut Employees Union, says getting an early start may make negotiations less lengthy.

“We don’t want to be in the same position the next time,” said Doug Workman, NEU president. “Our executive met just before Christmas and we decided that we’re going to start earlier.”

While getting organized well in advance should make a difference, factors such as the weather and availability of key players always seem to make negotiations a lengthy process.

“Both negotiation teams usually have used professional negotiators, so we’re kind of restricted to their schedule,” said Workman. “Weather and geography play a huge role as well.”

In early February or March, the board will call for resolutions and choose delegates to form a collective bargaining committee. During this time, they will be reaching out to the 11 locals within the union for input into a new agreement.

“We accomplished quite a bit the last negotiation,” said Workman. “We got a pretty reasonable return, increases in pay and some increases in benefits, so we certainly want to see that again.”

While it is still too early to elaborate on what the membership hopes to achieve, there will likely be continuing discussion around the issue of recruitment and retention.

“I still think there are some key positions the employer has not been able to fill or sustain, specifically in the health field,” said Workman.

In light of these preparations, Local 005, which covers most GN employees in the Baffin region, is trying to get its members together to establish key goals for each demographic. One of the recurring concerns for the local’s president Wes Smith is making the collective agreement accessible to the membership.

“We’re still trying to get union members to understand what their rights are,” he said.

Not every employee has a copy of the agreement, Smith added. Others have trouble understanding the agreement as it has not been translated. This means that the rights of the employees are being left to the interpretation of their supervisors, said Smith.

“That puts people at a disadvantage,” he said.

As with each round of negotiations, Smith said he is hopeful things will improve, but has long been discouraged by the way the government has treated its Inuit employees.

“I think the one key thing, personally, is fair and equitable training for people, because opportunities are not being offered as equitably as they could be,” he said. “Some people get opportunities and some don’t, and I think that’s where the GN is really falling short.”

Smith described instances where employees coming from the south have been promoted or given opportunities over deserving, qualified Inuit staff.

“Someone who is unilingual English, because they’re southern, they get a step up,” he said. “I think that’s really really wrong.”

As for the upcoming bargaining process, Workman said he is hoping the negotiations will go more smoothly than in previous years, particularly with a new cabinet and new premier.

“Of course, we have turnover at the front line and senior management,” he said. “The last administration -- the 2003 and the 2003 to 2006 collective agreement, and even this one -- there was a real challenge for us through each process.

It remains to be seen, but the last few negotiations, I felt that the premier was a phone call away … from being involved in the matter and giving his orders. In this case, we don’t know.”