Benefits battle

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Jan 24/00) - A Government of Nunavut press release which appeared to contain good news has angered the president of the Nunavut Employees Union.

Doug Workman said Finance Minister Kelvin Ng's announcement that the GN plans to raise the Northern Allowance benefit by 15 per cent was both inappropriate and out of line.

"The minister's actions were inappropriate and unacceptable because they exceed his authority under the Public Service Act of Nunavut," said Workman.

"I am absolutely disgusted with his approach."

Explaining that his anger stemmed from the fact that the announcement came in the midst of collective agreement bargaining and less than a week before the second round of the contract negotiations were to begin, Workman asserted that Ng's increase put the cart before the horse.

"He circumvented the negotiation process. I take exception to it because he decreed there will be an increase in the Northern Allowance before we even had the opportunity to go through the negotiation process," said Workman.

Round two of collective agreement negotiations started over the weekend and with the exception of a few minor financial issues, money matters were not expected to be brought to the table until the third round begins on Feb.14.

Workman said the union was currently reviewing its legal options, but planned to give the GN the opportunity to right their wrong during this session.

"Until then, it's sort of wait and see," he said.

In his defence, Ng said he was only trying to adjust present inadequacies in the benefit package and had not meant to pre-empt negotiations.

"I didn't intend to breach any articles under the (Public Service) Act," said Ng.

"We were basically trying to put an offer on the table to accommodate the employees. We were definitely not (trying to circumvent the negotiations)," he said.

If anything, Ng added that he thought the announcement would have pleased the union, while prejudicing the GN's opening financial bargaining position.

If it stands as is, the 15 per cent increase is to come into effect on April 1, 2000 and will pad the wallets of all GN employees.