Lights remain on at Yellowknife's Scotia Centre, home to several territorial government departments, on the evening of January 31, 2018. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Union negotiators reportedly “don’t see the point in coming back to the table” as collective bargaining for territorial government workers reached a fiery impasse on Wednesday.
That quote came not from a union statement but from the Government of the Northwest Territories, which issued an unexpectedly long and frustrated bargaining update on its website.
The territorial government portrayed the union as ignorant of the territory’s fiscal situation, unwilling to learn about or acknowledge the financial pressures, and premature in walking away from talks the government says it wanted to prolong.
Union of Northern Workers president Todd Parsons said the government’s latest offer was “an insult.” The union insists the territory is overstating its financial peril.
This week’s new GNWT offer only fractionally improved proposed salary increases, which have been the key sticking point in negotiations now dragging into a third year.
The union has indicated a deal will be ‘unlikely’ without significantly higher year-on-year salary bumps. The territory marginally upped 2019’s increase from 1% to 1.1% – but otherwise left that part of its proposal unchanged.
Also in the territory’s latest offer are an increase to workers’ northern allowances of at least $250 per year, changes to the way performance reviews work following union concerns, and a promise that term employees would earn indeterminate status after three years in the job.
Understanding, not acceptance
In an unusually frank, narrative account of proceedings, the territorial government said it tried to educate the union about the government’s financial position – to no avail.
“The GNWT offered to bring in a senior official from the Department of Finance to answer any questions that the UNW had, and to explain in more detail the GNWT fiscal situation. In response the UNW indicated that it understood, but did not accept the GNWT explanation of its fiscal situation,” read the territory’s update.
“The UNW responded later on January 30, 2018 not with a proposal, but with a statement that if the GNWT did not improve on its monetary offer there would not be a negotiated collective agreement. The UNW said again that it understood but did not accept the GNWT characterization of its current financial state, and characterized the current state of GNWT finances as ‘healthy.'”
The territory brought in its deputy minister of finance, David Stewart, to conduct a “detailed presentation” to union negotiators. Stewart told his audience that the territorial government is “currently experiencing a period of stagnant revenues that it has never before experienced and must balance a large number of competing priorities and interests,” after which the GNWT told the union its position would not change.
The government statement said: “The UNW subsequently advised the GNWT that ‘we don’t see the point in coming back to the table at this time.’ When asked for clarification, the UNW responded with, ‘The Employer doesn’t have a mandate that provides a framework for settlement.'”
In its own statement, the union said the territorial government’s revenues reached $2.08 billion in 2016-17 – an increase, the UNW suggested, of $46 million – and contrasted that with the $14 million that the UNW said its proposals would cost, even by the GNWT’s own accounting measures.
Just under 4,000 people are affected by collective bargaining, with the last agreement having expired in March 2016. The two sides have yet to schedule their next round of negotiations, but the territory said it “remains committed to reaching a collective agreement.”