The territorial government confirmed it will not pursue binding arbitration with the Union of Northern Workers, saying it was committed to the process already in place.
Earlier this week, the union publicly challenged the territory to accept arbitration and let a third party decide the terms of new collective agreements for 4,000 government workers alongside staff at the power corporation.
On Wednesday, the GNWT said it hoped to achieve the same outcome as arbitration through a mediation process the two sides have already begun, which is due to continue next month.
The territory said it wanted the mediator, Vince Ready, to provide recommendations to resolve outstanding issues which both parties could then follow.
Ready’s recommendations – which he is not obliged to make, and he made little public comment after an initial two-day mediation session in October – would not be binding.
‘Part of the process’
“The collective bargaining process between the GNWT and the UNW is set out in the Public Service Act and it is within that process that bargaining has and continues to take place,” read a statement issued to Cabin Radio by the territorial government on Wednesday.
“Part of that process is mediation. The parties held two days of mediation talks in October 2018 with mediator Mr Vince Ready, and are confirmed to return to the mediation table on February 8-9, 2019.
“Mr Ready is, without debate, one of the most experienced and highly respected mediators in the country, whose opinion and guidance should be welcomed by both the GNWT and UNW.”
The territory said it would attend mediation on February 8 and 9 “with the sole goal of concluding a new collective agreement.”
Its statement added: “Under the act and upon the conclusion of mediation, the mediator shall provide the parties with a report a) recommending a resolution of their differences, or b) stating that he will not make recommendations and the reasons why he will not do so.
“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 provide the parties with recommendations to resolve the outstanding issues.”
Ready could, in theory, recommend binding arbitration, or a mix of other solutions.
However, neither party would be forced to accept Ready’s proposals, which is the key difference between his role as a mediator and that of an arbitrator.
Both sides have spoken of their high regard for Ready’s work.
They could agree to treat Ready’s recommendations as though they were the outcome of arbitration, which would guarantee a conclusion to the three-year-long labour dispute while following the process outlined in the Public Service Act.
However, there has been no indication that either party will do so – and such an agreement may require more trust and cooperation than either side has appeared willing to extend in recent months.
The UNW’s push for binding arbitration carried with it the implication that union leaders had already written off any chance of success in February’s mediation.