Statements from the territorial government and Union of Northern Workers this week suggest an almost complete breakdown in communication between the two parties.
The union and territory are into the third year of a dispute largely centred on wage increases for government workers. The union wants three percent year-on-year, the territory is offering a fraction of that.
Following the union’s announcement this week that a majority of its eligible voting members had backed possible strike action, the territory issued a statement on Wednesday suggesting channels of communication with the union are no longer working.
“The Government of the Northwest Territories understands from media reports that the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) has announced that ‘almost 70 percent of voting members have voted in favour of strike action’,” the statement began.
“The GNWT remains committed to reaching a collective agreement that meets the interests of all parties, and is pleased to also understand that the UNW intends to return to the bargaining table, perhaps with the assistance of a mediator.”
The territory’s uncertainty over the involvement of a mediator is in contrast to the union’s update to its members on Monday, which sounded much more certain.
“The UNW bargaining team is still committed to trying to work with the employer through the bargaining process, now with the assistance of a mediator,” the union declared.
The discrepancy suggests a mediator may need to be appointed to agree upon the appointment of a mediator.
Meanwhile, the territorial government continued to assail the union’s terminology regarding the money available to spend on wages.
The union has consistently suggested the NWT is sitting on a nine-figure surplus it refuses to spend on employees.
Further, the union has requested less spending on infrastructure in favour of more money for staff.
In March, UNW president Todd Parsons told Cabin Radio: “We know they’ve had more than $400 million in operational surpluses in the last three years. They’re choosing to spend all their money on infrastructure. We need to invest in the public service as well.”
The territorial government says its operational surpluses are partly used to build things like schools, health facilities, and housing.
“We continue to be concerned with the UNW’s misleading summary of the GNWT’s current fiscal situation,” said finance minister Robert C McLeod through a statement.
“As we continue bargaining to ensure we are providing competitive compensation and benefits to our employees, our challenge remains balancing all of our competing priorities during an unprecedented period of stagnant revenues while being fiscally responsible.”
The lone sign of any agreement between the parties is both sides’ claim they are doing everything they can to avoid a strike taking place.
“However,” the territory’s statement added, “recognizing our obligations to the public, the GNWT will also continue to diligently prepare for the possibility that the UNW may choose to exercise its right to strike once in a legal position to do so.”
Some 4,000 NWT residents and their families are directly affected by the ability of the union and territory to successfully conclude negotiations.