Qulliq Energy Corp. does not have a problem with how it treats Inuit employees, according to president Peter Mackey, who says Nunavut's public power utility is actually doing well when it comes to including Inuit in its workforce.
In an interview with CBC News on Wednesday, Mackey responded to claims by former employees about the way staff — especially those who are Inuit land-claim beneficiaries — are being treated.
Earlier this week, two longtime employees said they got into trouble with Qulliq management because they defended Inuit employment rights as set out in Nunavut's land claim.
Article 23 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement calls for increased Inuit participation in the territorial government workforce.
58% Inuit workforce
But Mackey said Inuit already make up 58 per cent of Qulliq Energy's workforce, and most of the operators in its power plants are land-claim beneficiaries. The utility is making big efforts to make sure more Inuit are being hired and promoted, he added.
"We have been very aggressive in the past six to eight years in terms of tradespeople and getting apprentices in, so that we can replace all southern hires with beneficiairies in the trades positions," Mackey said.
"Some of the key things that are professional designation positions, like engineering and finance … what we're doing now is mentoring people into those positions," he added.
Joe Sageatook was fired on Monday as a power systems electrician, after 15 years at Qulliq Energy, while Chris Cousins left after 16 years as a maintenance supervisor because he refused to accept a lower-level job offer.
Both Cousins and Sageatook had been suspended without pay in January. Sageatook said Qulliq Energy officials told him he was exhibiting "disrespectful insubordinate behaviour."
Both men said they had raised concerns about Inuit not being hired for various Qulliq Energy positions, even if they have met all the job requirements.
2 lawsuits launched
While Sageatook and Cousins say they plan to take action against Qulliq Energy, two other former employees have already launched lawsuits against the Crown corporation.
Sarah Kucera and Amy Hynes are seeking a combined total of $1.4 million in compensation and punitive damages for alleged mismanagement, breach of contract and constructive dismissal — allegations that Qulliq Energy denies.
When asked why there are so many complaints coming from former staff, Mackey said it's disgruntled people who are making sure their voices are the loudest.
Mackey added that not everyone is happy with the growing pains he said are happening as part of Qulliq Energy's process of becoming a fair and equitable corporation.
Qulliq Energy is doing that, he said, by having an Inuit planning committee, individualized career development programs, and recruitment campaigns at the high school level.