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Bargaining: what the UNW wants, what the GNWT’s offering

Opening proposals from the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) and the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) have been published online.

The proposals were exchanged on Thursday and Friday this week as bargaining between the two sides began.

The current collective agreement for GNWT employees expires on March 31 this year. The new collective agreement will affect the employment terms of around 4,000 territorial government staff for the rest of the decade.

Here’s an overview of the government and union positions as set out in their initial proposals. You can also inspect the proposals for yourself, in full.

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What the UNW is asking for

In full: Read the UNW’s opening proposal (pdf)

Some key points in the UNW’s proposal include:

  • No contracting out of work

The current collective agreement, which expires in just over two months, contains provisions allowing the territorial government to contract out work – with appropriate consultation – in situations where contracting out could see government employees lose their jobs.

The union wants to do away with this entirely. Its proposal strikes out the entire article of the agreement pertaining to contracting out, replacing it with: “There shall be no contracting out of bargaining unit work.”

The territorial government has already responded to this proposal. A document released by the GNWT on Friday reads in part:

“The GNWT is unable to agree to this proposal. In 2009, the Auditor General reviewed the GNWT’s contracting policy and said … ‘using contracts helps the Government deliver its services effectively and efficiently’.”

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  • More leave for GNWT staff

The UNW has asked to increase the speed with which employees earn vacation days, raising the documented rate at which staff accrue vacation leave for each hour they work.

For an employee with under two years’ service, the union wants the rate at which they earn vacation to increase by around 15 percent. For a member of staff with more than 20 years’ service, the union is looking for around a 20 percent increase.

In addition, the UNW is seeking improvements when it comes to special leave – leave taken, for example, when a loved one dies or when the employee is getting married.

The union wants extra days of special leave for staff in those circumstances – in some cases, up to 12 days of special leave in one go – and wants staff to be able to request five days of special leave “at the employee’s discretion” each year (instead of at a manager’s discretion).

The UNW also wants it to be easier for people to get leave for training purposes, and is asking the GNWT to set aside more cash to fund this.

  • Pay for those on compassionate care leave

The union wants staff members who meet certain criteria to be eligible for 93 percent of their pay while on compassionate care leave (defined as caring for “a gravely ill family member at risk of dying within 26 weeks”).

There is currently no such allowance. If created, its terms would be similar to the existing maternity/parental leave allowance.

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  • Clearer guidance on harassment and abuse

Article 51 of the current agreement contains three short clauses in which the GNWT pledges to promote a workplace free from sexual harassment.

The UNW wants to replace this with a far lengthier, broader article dealing not just with sexual harassment, but also bullying, abuse of authority and workplace violence.

The GNWT, in response, says it is ‘reviewing’ the UNW’s proposed new language and will have an answer when negotiations continue nearer the end of January.

  • More money for people working unusual hours

Territorial government employees covered by the agreement are paid a premium for regularly scheduled work outside the usual 8am to 5pm working day.

The union wants that premium to increase, with a new, $5-an-hour premium for all overnight work between midnight and 8am.

  • Money for winter clothing

Right now, there is no specific clause in the agreement dealing with winter clothing for staff whose job dictates they spend time outdoors.

The UNW has asked for staff in that circumstance to be given a $200 annual allowance for winter clothes.

  • Changes to the rules on term employees

Term employees – i.e. those hired for a fixed term – can currently be hired for up to four years for positions in any of the territory’s departments, or on boards or working for agencies.

The UNW wants that limit brought down to two years, with any term employee reaching the two-year limit then offered a permanent position by the GNWT.

The union is also seeking to add a new clause, in which the territory would agree never to hire term employees “to fill a position permanently vacated by an indeterminate employee”.

  • How much staff are paid and how long they work

The union has not yet made any specific, public proposals in this area. However, in its opening proposal, the UNW does set out some guidelines as to how it will approach negotiations on pay.

The UNW’s proposal says real economic increases, protecting against inflation, comparisons with other jobs and employers, restructuring pay grids, changes in increments, changes to the Northern Allowance and retroactivity back to first day of contract will all form part of its bargaining on pay.

What the GNWT is offering

In full: Read the GNWT’s opening proposal and short response to the UNW (pdfs)

Some key points in the GNWT’s proposal include:

  • A warning about the territory’s economic challenges

From the outset, a page-long introduction to the government’s proposal makes it clear that there is not much money to play with.

The loss of the Snap Lake mine for the foreseeable future, plus a $33 million shortfall in expected income from the federal government, are both highlighted as major dents in the NWT economy.

“We are optimistic that we can arrive at a negotiated agreement that will meet all our needs, including balancing fiscal responsibility and competitiveness,” reads the introductory statement.

“Although the package appears modest, we believe that it reflects today’s reality and the priorities of our employees.”

  • New restrictions aimed at retaining staff

The GNWT says its departments face “significant difficulty” in finding and retaining staff. That’s why its proposal includes new policies aimed at tying down staff who take advantage of government-job perks.

For example: if the GNWT pays for you to relocate to the territory, now the government wants you to commit to remaining in its employment for at least a year afterward.

If you go on education leave, the new policy would see you committed to coming back to the GNWT for a significant period of time afterward – whether or not you successfully completed your studies.

If you use the GNWT’s much-vaunted option of taking lower pay in return for six months to a year off work at a later date, then you’re going to have to come back for six months or a year afterward – and so on.

“We recognize that retaining positive and motivated staff is vital to the GNWT’s success,” is how the government puts it, before going on to suggest that these rules are not entirely new.

“We have incorporated language from our leave agreements into the main body of the agreement to clarify and implement a standard return of service requirement that would be fair and equitable to all staff.”

  • Measures to improve mental health

Though there are no specifics, the GNWT calls on the UNW to work together in setting out ways to improve mental health in the workplace.

  • Clarity on safe disclosure, aka whistleblowing

What happens to staff who want to report wrongdoing at work? The GNWT wants to crystallize that.

A policy on safe disclosure – otherwise known as whistleblowing – was introduced to the collective agreement in the last round of bargaining, between 2011 and 2012.

“We want to work together with the union on providing more clarity for our employees,” says the GNWT in its proposal.

Particular concerns involve how to determine if a reprisal has taken place against a whistleblower; how safe disclosure panel documents are archived; and how safe disclosure investigations are conducted.

  • Changes to how the government uses relief workers

The GNWT wants more freedom in the way it uses relief workers – those brought in to cover gaps on an as-needed basis.

The government’s explanation is: “This proposal will allow the use of relief workers in all operations, rather than just those that operate continuously throughout the year.”

There will also be changes to the way relief workers are paid if the GNWT’s proposal is accepted.

Relief workers earn an additional 16 percent of base salary to replace the various benefits and leave allowances that they don’t receive. The GNWT wants to pay that bi-weekly instead of the current practice, which involves paying it out each May.

The government says a number of relief workers have requested this.

  • How much staff are paid and how long they work

Like the union, the government has not set out any specifics on this central topic. However, it does provide a brief comment.

“Our overall goal is to maintain a sustainable public service,” reads the GNWT’s statement on the issue. “To do this we need to achieve a balance between investing in employees and fiscal responsibility.

“We believe that this should be a shared goal between the union and the GNWT.”

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