Union members at a 'practice picket' outside Yellowknife's Jackfish Lake power plant in December 2018. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The Union of Northern Workers has dismissed Monday’s territorial government claim that proposed wage increases will beat inflation for the average employee.
Issuing a rebuttal, the union said it would demand the territory agree to binding arbitration.
Accusing the GNWT of “bargaining through the media with dishonest numbers,” the union said: “If the government is serious about reaching a fair agreement and avoiding a strike, they will stop their attempts to provoke and agree to our offer of binding arbitration.”
In a document published earlier on Monday, the territory said the average pay increase under its current proposals would be 9.2 percent over five years – higher, it claimed, than forecast inflation of 8.6 percent over the same period.
That claim directly contradicted the union’s long-held position that its employees are not being offered wage increases that meet the rising cost of living in the North.
The territorial government said it reached its figures by adding together both the annual “step increase” of 2.6 percent – received by any employee who is not at the top of their current position’s pay grade – and the “economic increases” the territory is proposing.
Economic increases, which apply across the pay grid, are the source of a key disagreement between the union and the government. The union wants three percent year-on-year increases to this figure, while the territory wants a two-year freeze followed by smaller increases.
“This dishonest attempt by the GNWT to mislead their own employees is shameful,” said Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers, in a statement to Cabin Radio late on Monday.
Parsons said a five-year collective agreement, on which the GNWT’s document was premised, was “not even on the table.”
“They confuse pay steps – based on how long you’ve been at that position – with pay increases, which ensure everyone’s wages are increased annually by a fair amount, often tied to the cost of living,” said Parsons.
“They use their twisted numbers to claim to reach the cost of living, but it’s simply false.”
Monday’s GNWT document marked the first time step increases have been discussed publicly in the bargaining process, which has been ongoing since January 2016.
The union’s response maintained a common theme throughout that three-year period: the territorial government presents a set of figures which it says demonstrate the offer is financially sound; and the union rejects outright the math behind the figures.
In its latest response, the union claimed half of its territorial government members are already at the highest step for their position, meaning they would not receive any annual step increase – and would therefore receive instead a two-year pay freeze, followed by increases of between 1.4 percent and 1.7 percent.
“No workers are being offered the cost of living and for 2,000 experienced members, there is not even a step increase,” argued Parsons.
“Zero really does mean zero. And the GNWT didn’t even address the key bargaining issue of job security and the increasing use of relief and casual positions.”
The territory’s document said its latest offer included “adjustments … to address issues around relief employees, lay‐offs,” and other issues, but did not elaborate.
“The GNWT seems to think the best way to negotiate is to weaken the union and deceive the public. This won’t work,” said Parsons.
“What I have been hearing all day today is members angry at the government for sending out such a dishonest document.
“These hard-working public service workers have been without a contract now for over three years and patience is wearing thin. The government can fix this, but time is running out.”
A second round of mediation between the two parties is scheduled for February 8 and 9.