Qulliq Energy Corp. says it has been "eminently fair" with its workers, despite concerns raised by ex-employees and Nunavut's Inuit organization about the public power utility's treatment of Inuit staff.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the territory's Inuit land-claims organization, has already called on the government to order an independent review of Qulliq Energy's treatment of Inuit workers. The group cited complaints it has received from some employees.
Recently, two Inuit employees were suspended without pay from Qulliq Energy, allegedly for asking questions about their Inuit land-claim rights. One of the workers was also demoted.
But in a statement issued to CBC News on Wednesday, Qulliq Energy insists it "has at all times been eminently fair with all of its employees."
The utility says it has an Inuit employment plan and is committed to meeting its employment-related obligations set out in the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement.
At the same time, the utility says employees must perform their jobs competently and "fulfill the responsibilities attendant on the position."
Decisions not made in haste: Qulliq
Read Qulliq Energy Corp.'s statement to CBC News.
If those responsibilities are not being met, "the responsible employer must make decisions in the best interests of the corporation to fulfill its obligations to those it serve and the other employees," Qulliq Energy's statement reads in part.
"These decisions are not made in haste at QEC, nor without all due consideration of the employee in question," the statement adds.
As well, Qulliq Energy says it's up to employers to address any "extrinsic matters and inappropriate behaviours" that are "disruptive, counter-productive, or detrimental" to the workplace.
"Certain conduct may accordingly be commented on and discouraged, which may include political discourse which is unrelated to the job and disruptive to the working environment. That is the prerogative and responsibility of the employer in any workplace," the statement says.
The utility added that it sometimes has to let go of people who do not meet their job requirements, especially during an employee's probation period.
Minister not commenting
Nunavut Tunngavik president Cathy Towtongie has already informed Lorne Kusugak, the minister responsible for Qulliq Energy, that her group has received complaints from some of the utility's Inuit employees.
In a letter dated Jan. 20, Towtongie asked Kusugak to ensure "any discriminatory practices within QEC against Inuit employees and Inuit values are stopped and remedied immediately."
Kusugak said in a brief statement Wednesday that he has responded to Nunavut Tunngavik's concerns, but he would not elaborate on what his response was.
Kusugak added that he won't comment further on the Qulliq Energy matter, "as QEC does not conduct [labour] relations through third parties or the media."
Ex-employee had signed agreement
Qulliq Energy's statement made a specific reference to Robert Tookoome, who told CBC News he was let go after a few months on the job as a human resources support assistant.
Tookoome alleged that some of his supervisors were irritated when he talked about his Inuit culture and raised questions related to the Nunavut land claim. He said he was later told he did not fit in at Qulliq Energy.
Tookoome also claimed that Qulliq Energy gave him a $13,000 severance package, which he said seemed unusually high since he had been working there for less than four months.
Qulliq Energy said it considers a number of factors when deciding on settlement packages, such as the "disruption and displacement of the [employees'] former life and occupation," the nature of the job, and the term of employment.
Qulliq Energy said Tookoome had signed a settlement agreement, which it said was supposed to be confidential.