North

Iqaluit administration, firefighters at odds over new schedule

Iqaluit's city hall is uniquely situated in the same building as their fire department. But even though they may share the same building, city administration, firefighters and emergency dispatchers don't always share the same views.

Hours changing for firefighters, dispatchers; union says it has issued notice of bargaining

Iqaluit's fire department shares space with city hall, but its employees are at odds with city administration. Firefighters and dispatchers are unhappy with changes to their hours that have been made to help the city resolve its budget crisis. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Iqaluit's city hall is uniquely situated in the same building as their fire department. But even though they may share the same building, city administration, firefighters and emergency dispatchers don't always share the same views — and things are heating up.

The city is currently saddled with $8 million in debt. Department heads have been asked to do their part to help keep finances in order by making their departments more efficient. In the case of firefighters and dispatch operators, that means a new schedule — something the Nunavut Employees Union says its members are not happy with.

"I'm worried, truly worried about the situation at the city," said Bill Fennell, the president of NEU. "Tension between the firefighters and management is at a point where, well, it's at a boiling point. I don't want to see somebody fired or worse."

Currently, Iqaluit firefighters work a schedule of four days on, then three days off. That's being switched to five days on, with two days off — an extra day on shift. However, the real change is that, on average, weekly hours will be cut down to eliminate overtime costs.

"[Firefighters are] paid four hours of overtime per week, per member," said Luc Grandmaison, Iqaluit's director of emergency and protective services. "So four, times 18, times 52 — all right, so that's a hundred grand." 

Dispatchers are changing to a similar schedule, although they will be working, on average, two extra hours per week. This new schedule, with slightly longer hours, means the department will be forced to lay off one of its six dispatch staff.

The union says these changes are unacceptable. On September 1st, the NEU issued a notice of bargaining to the city.

According to labour law, says Fennell, once such a notice has been given, the city is prohibited from making changes to conditions of employment until December 31st, when the collective agreement expires. At that point, a new agreement will need to be negotiated.

Grandmaison says the matter is now with the city's lawyers.

"The notification of change [of schedule] was submitted to the union in July... and all members as of two weeks ago, August 12th, have been issued their new work schedules. This was before we were issued a notice to bargain. So these changes were made before the notice to bargain."  

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