Northwest Territories MP Dennis Bevington has thrown his full support behind workers on strike in Hay River.
More than 30 Town of Hay River workers have been on strike since February 9 in a dispute over pay increases.
The 61-year-old New Democrat MP visited the picket line on Thursday.
He told Moose FM he supported the workers’ position and called on the town to act.
“The workers on the picket line are looking to see this strike settled. They want to get back to the negotiating table. They are united together, they’re not going to see that this breaks down very easily,” said Bevington.
“We want to get back to the negotiating table and get this solved. There’s lots of community support.
“The town has to realize that this is not a good situation. They need to get back to the table. Things that are happening in the community are affecting businesses. This is not good.
“The town employees are all long-term residents of the community, they are dedicated to the community and that needs to be understood.”
Since the start of the strike, the town has maintained it cannot afford to meet the union’s demand for pay increases above 2% year-on-year for the next three years.
Workers rejected an initial 1% year-on-year deal, then turned down a small increase on that offer later in February.
Bevington believes changes in economic conditions, such as the lower price of fuel in recent months, should mean the town can now afford to improve its offer.
“There’s room for the town to act, to give these people the kind of cost-of-living increase that they do need,” he said.
“Some things have changed that should open up budgets a bit more. Energy costs for heating oil and other things are down a little bit this year – I think there’s room to move for the employer.”
Bevington suggested industrial action in Hay River, Fort Smith and Yellowknife – where workers at seniors’ facilities are threatening to strike – shows employers are not taking their employees’ needs seriously.
He claimed situations like these could have a negative effect on the territorial government’s bid to attract more people to the NWT.
“The goal of the NWT is to increase our population. In order to accomplish that we need to ensure the wages are appropriate so people can have a good lifestyle in the North,” said Bevington.
“Without that, we won’t see the improvements we want to see in our population.
“These are just indications that employers have to take the wage requirements of the workers seriously. This is not a situation where they’re asking for any more than the cost of living.”
In 2006, as a newly elected MP, Bevington locked horns with BHP Billiton – then-operator of the Ekati diamond mine – over industrial action by workers.
Bevington’s support of the workers drew criticism from the NWT’s Chamber of Mines, which claimed to be “surprised and horrified” at an elected official taking sides in a labour dispute.