N.W.T., UNW begin work on new collective agreement, 2 years after contentious negotiations

·1 min read
A lawn sign from 2018 showing support for the Union of Northern Workers. The last round of negotiations between the government and the union lasted years and a strike was only narrowly avoided. (Michael Hugall/CBC  - image credit)
A lawn sign from 2018 showing support for the Union of Northern Workers. The last round of negotiations between the government and the union lasted years and a strike was only narrowly avoided. (Michael Hugall/CBC - image credit)

The N.W.T. government has started negotiations for a new collective agreement with its workers, barely two years after binding recommendations from a mediator narrowly avoided a strike.

The Union of Northern Workers, which represents roughly 5,700 workers at the territorial government and other northern employers, announced they had started negotiations with the government Monday.

As is typical for these discussions, both sides agreed to make "no further public comment" until negotiations are complete.

The current collective agreement, which expired on March 31, was the result of a years-long negotiation that saw heated exchanges with politicians and repeated threats of a strike over demands for millions in pay raises and new benefits.

A strike was only narrowly avoided when the territorial government agreed to abide by the recommendations of a mediator in March 2019.

The resulting five-year agreement, which included a 6.4 per cent pay bump for government workers by the end of 2020, was backdated to 2016, when the prior agreement had expired.

At the time, the government said they would initiate a review of the negotiations to determine what caused them to break down, to prevent a similar outcome this time around.

The intervening years have seen a historic expansion of government, with the creation of hundreds of new positions ostensibly assigned to COVID-19 prevention.

Its last budget, which sees the cost of compensation and benefits increase by nearly 10 per cent over 2019, has been described as "unsustainable" by the territory's finance minister.