Mediator's recommendations released, 5-year deal in prospect

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The territorial government and Union of Northern Workers are set to sign a five-year collective agreement under binding recommendations released on Monday.

In a news release, the territory published a summary of mediator Vince Ready's findings – which both sides agreed to consider binding in a deal to avert strike action last month.

The five-year agreement – backdated to April 1, 2016, when the last one expired – sees territorial government workers receive no salary increase in the first two years.

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That will be followed by increases for the last three years of 1.6 percent on April 1, 2018, 2.3 percent on April 1, 2019, and 2.5 percent on April 1, 2020.

In full: Read the full set of recommendations from the mediator

Those increases are more than the territorial government's offer as set out in a document issued by the territory in January.

At the time, the NWT government was offering 1.4 percent on April 1, 2018, 1.4 percent on April 1, 2019, and 1.7 percent on April 1, 2020.

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Though the union shifted its stance in the closing stages of negotiations, its longstanding position had been a request for three percent year-on-year increases.

According to Ready's summary of the sides' positions, included in Monday's document, the union had hoped for a four-year agreement while the territory had advocated for a five-year deal.

Signing a five-year agreement ensures some breathing space before the two sides reconvene to begin this process again, said Ready.

"It must be remembered that the parties are already almost three years beyond the expiry of their previous collective agreement, and that the imposition of a four year-agreement could result in the parties being back at the bargaining table within months of concluding current negotiations," he wrote.

"I have determined it is preferable to give the parties a respite from what has proved to be a difficult and relationship-challenging round of bargaining, and the opportunity to turn their attentions to issues beyond the bargaining table."

The new deal would be expected to lapse at the end of March 2021.

Leave, mental health, indeterminate status

The recommendations come a month and a half after a strike that would have affected thousands of staff was called off at the last minute, following two days of last-ditch mediation.

The UNW called off a planned strike after the union and territorial government agreed, in the early hours of February 10, to treat Ready’s recommendations in their labour dispute as binding.

Thousands of workers had been due to strike on February 11 had no agreement been reached.

According to the territorial government's news release, other key details include:

  • An additional $250 to the Northern Allowance base, effective April 1, 2018;
  • Expanded situations where relief employees can be used to encompass as-and-when services;
  • Term employees will receive indeterminate status following two years in the same position (in most circumstances);
  • Changes to lay-off provisions, including a new a memorandum of understanding on voluntary separation;
  • Victims of domestic violence will now receive an additional three paid days of leave for attending appointments or legal proceedings, or other activities key to their health and safety;
  • Employees electing to choose the new extended parental leave option will be supported by changes to the GNWT's parental leave benefits; and
  • A memorandum of understanding on mental health, which will include a commitment to begin implementing the national standard for psychological health in the workplace.

The territorial government and the union will now meet to discuss how the new collective agreement will be implemented.

The Union of Northern Workers declined an interview request, telling Cabin Radio in a statement: "Thanks for the opportunity. Our primary focus is on communicating directly with our members to maintain the integrity of the information."

Finance Minister Robert C McLeod told Cabin Radio: "I'm pleased with the final recommendations. The fact we got a five-year deal, I think, is very helpful. Folks will have a bit of time before the next round of negotiations.

"It's an increase that still fits within the fiscal framework we were working with.

"It was a different process, putting the fate of our negotiations into the hands of a third party," said McLeod.

"Hopefully, in the future, the government and union can work out something between themselves, so we don't have to have a third party decide some of our conditions."

A full interview with the minister will air on Cabin Radio's Lunchtime News from 12pm on Tuesday, March 26.

Ready's approach

Opening his recommendations document, Ready wrote: "During the course of mediation both parties worked diligently towards resolving their differences and reaching agreement for the renewal of their collective agreement so as to avoid a pending strike.

"Notwithstanding those concerted efforts, the talks stalled mainly over certain job security issues, the term of the agreement, and economic increases.

"It would be an understatement to say that the current set of negotiations has been challenging and. at times, contentious. That said, I can say without hesitation that during the mediation process both parties were strongly committed and worked diligently and responsibly towards resolving their outstanding issues. I would be remiss if I did not express my appreciation to both parties for their conduct."

Ready said he had tried to "replicate what the parties would have achieved in negotiations had they been left to freely negotiate a collective agreement with the use of economic sanctions, such as a strike or lockout."

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