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UNW calls rare news conference ahead of latest mediation

Union members rally outside a territorial government building in February 2019
Union members rally outside a territorial government building in February 2019.

The Union of Northern Workers (UNW) is to hold a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, following a week in which the union traded public statements with the territorial government and staged a downtown rally.

Last week, the territorial government issued a document to staff setting out its position on relief employees, job security, and other areas in which the territory and union disagree.

The union responded by dismissing the document as a “misleading … attempt to provoke.”

However, while the UNW responded to an earlier such territorial government document by challenging specific claims, on Friday the union offered no such analysis.



Instead, the union urged the territorial government to accept mediator Vince Ready’s recommendations when the sides meet for a further two days of mediation next week.

“We already offered binding arbitration to put an end to this dispute which was refused by the GNWT,” stated the union in a note to members.

The note urged the territory to help resolve outstanding issues and, if any cannot be resolved, “agree to accept the recommendations of the mediator as final and binding.”

The territorial government has not issued a response to that request.



Members of the union gathered outside a territorial government building in downtown Yellowknife for a lunchtime rally on the same day.

On Monday, the union took the unusual step of announcing a press conference – believed to be its first since collective bargaining negotiations began, in January 2016 – on “the status of negotiations” with the territory.

Mediation is due to resume on February 8 and 9.

‘All can be resolved’

The territorial government’s latest document sent to staff claimed the GNWT is using far fewer relief employees than was formerly the case, and has withdrawn a proposal to expand its use of relief workers.

The territory said relief employees made up fewer than two percent of its payroll. (This number is not easily independently assessed. The territory’s latest public service report suggests seven percent of staff were full-time relief workers as at March 31, 2017, but percentage of staff and percentage of payroll are not the same thing.)

Regarding job security, the GNWT said it was proposing “to convert term employees to indeterminate employment status after 24 months of continuous employment in the same position,” with exceptions in instances where positions are externally funded for a defined period using sources beyond the territory’s control.

“The GNWT continues to believe that all issues can be resolved through negotiation,” the territory concluded, adding it had full faith in Ready as the mediator between the two.

The union, in response, said the territorial government should be prepared to accept Ready’s recommendations on divisive issues as final and binding if it held him in such high regard.