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Strike in second week

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 06/06) - Floyd Roland, NWT health and social services minister, is calling on both sides of a labour dispute at the NWT's only addictions treatment centre to sort out their differences.

The Nats'ejee K'eh treatment centre is calling the work stoppage a strike while workers are calling it a lockout.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Eloise Fineday, an addictions counsellor at Nats'ejee K'eh, stands in the foreground. She and her fellow employees were handing out information and had a petition for people to sign. - Erika Sherk/NNSL photo

"I've sent a letter off urging both parties to get back to the negotiating table," said Roland. "Ultimately we're going to make sure that clients are going to be taken care of."

On Oct. 23, less than 72 hours after the Public Service Alliance of Canada gave notice of possible strike action, Nats'ejee K'eh locked its doors.

"It's what's known as a 'cooling off period'," said Jean-Francios Des Lauriers, PSAC regional vice president. "And rather than contacting us they basically went ahead and locked (the workers) out."

On Tuesday, PSAC chartered a plane to fly centre workers to Yellowknife and appeared at the legislative assembly to make their case. According to Des Lauriers, the treatment centre employees had been working for three-and-a-half years without a collective agreement. What is at stake are travel benefits, utilities subsidies and a raise in pay to match cost of living increases.

"What we want is the renewal of terms and conditions that existed under the collective agreement that expired three-and-a-half years ago," said Des Lauriers adding that unless the treatment centre board was prepared to agree to those terms, employees would not sign a new contract.

"Our members could've withdrawn services then but didn't in deference to the welfare of their clients."

When Roland was asked if the GNWT would step in, like it did to resolve the Fort Simpson ferry dispute last year, the health minister said it was not an immediate option.

"I think the comparison would be a little different (and) right now they have a union in place whereas the Simpson ferry was about to go into a union process," said Roland. "Obviously there are other options that can be looked at but our first choice is to get the parties back together."

Roland said he didn't consider the situation a lockout.

"We're aware the contract permits the employer to send people home if there are no clients there," he said.

"That's the process that was used, employees are not locked out as there are no clients there."

When the government and the treatment centre became aware that the strike was unfolding, five clients who were receiving treatment at the centre were moved south to continue their treatment.

A bargaining date has not been set.