Kinngait hamlet workers threaten to strike as negotiations for collective agreement break down

Kinngait, Nunavut. Lorraine Rousseau, regional executive vice president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada North, says services like water, sewage and garbage pick up will be affected if an agreement isn't reached and hamlet workers go on strike on Nov. 22. (Sara Frizzell/CBC - image credit)
Kinngait, Nunavut. Lorraine Rousseau, regional executive vice president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada North, says services like water, sewage and garbage pick up will be affected if an agreement isn't reached and hamlet workers go on strike on Nov. 22. (Sara Frizzell/CBC - image credit)

Workers at the Hamlet of Kinngait, Nunavut, are threatening to go on strike at the end of the month.

It comes as talks "have broken off" between the Public Service Alliance North (PSAC North), Nunavut Employees Union and the hamlet employees during an attempt to reach a tentative agreement with the help of a federal conciliator last month, according to a news release Monday from PSAC.

"The workers have been voting — almost 100 per cent are in favour of going on strike if any agreement is not reached before the legal strike deadline," said Pitseolak Pishuktie,employee union president in Kinngait.

That deadline is set for Nov. 22.

Employees with the hamlet have been without a contract for over two years since the last contract expired in March 2020.

Pishuktie said wages for workers under the union in Kinngait are "very low" and that nearly 50 per cent of the jobs are vacant right now.

Pishuktie said if it comes down to a strike, he hopes a solution will come from it.

"I hope there'll be a change," he said.

The release said the impasse is in part due from concessions "being demanded" by the hamlet that would affect the "working conditions and livelihoods" of employees.

One sticking point is that the hamlet is looking to "remove rights to about one-third of the collective agreement articles for employees accepting positions directly funded by the government of Nunavut," the release said.

Jacqueline McKay/CBC
Jacqueline McKay/CBC

"They are attempting to do this regardless of how much money is in the funding contract between the [Government of Nunavut] and the hamlet," said NEU president Jason Rochon in a statement.

"This is simply an unacceptable situation."

The union and PSAC North said there's also an issue with the hamlet's proposed policy change in the collective agreement around when employees can go hunting. Essentially, PSAC North said the employer wants the right to decide when employees can take discretionary leave to go hunting.

"It has already been in the contract for many, many years," said Lorraine Rousseau, regional executive vice president for PSAC North.

"And it's never been a problem before. So why are they trying to rescind that now?"

Rochon said it "seems like current management wants to re-colonize the community instead of accepting the needs of its people and their traditional culture."

Wages too low, not raised for women, says Rousseau

Wage increases are also a sticking point — the hamlet's final offer for a wage hike is 1.6 per cent a year over a five-year deal, the release said. PSAC North and NEU said this rate doesn't match the current rate of inflation.

The release cites Statistics Canada's latest Consumer Price Index figures from September, which places a five per cent increase in price for Iqaluit, with inflation expected to grow "significantly higher" in other remote communities in Nunavut, including Kinngait.

Another big issue, said Rousseau, is pay to female workers.

Rousseau said the employer has offered a top-up above the general wage increase for some employees, but that doesn't include any of the current positions in the office held by women.

Rousseau said "time is ticking" to reach an agreement.

"It's not just the workers that are affected [by a strike] ... And it's not just the employer affected, it is going to be the community for all those services," she said.

"Water, sewage, garbage, administrative coordination of any kind of work — if those individuals go on strike, those services are not going to be provided to the citizens, and it'll be squarely on the shoulders of the employer."

CBC reached out to the hamlet but was unable to get a response before publishing time.