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N.W.T. MLAs urge territorial government, UNW to meet with a mediator

N.W.T. government workers represented by the Union of Northern Workers have been without a collective bargaining agreement since 2016. After sessions of mediation in October, the government and union both left the table at a stalemate.

'Real possibility' of government worker strike in 2019, says union president

Union of Northern Workers president Todd Parsons speaks to a crowd at the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly in March. (Randi Beers/CBC)

Mediation between the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) and Northwest Territories government could resume during the first week of February, union president Todd Parsons told the CBC on Wednesday.

Territorial government workers represented by the UNW have been without a collective bargaining agreement since 2016.

After mediation in October, union and government negotiators left the table at a stalemate. Now, with the year coming to a close, territorial politicians are calling on the government to engage in discussions.

"It's a real possibility there will be a labour dispute in 2019," said Parsons. "We're going to do everything we can to avoid it."

Neither side has talked about the possibility of coming to an agreement outside of mediation, said Parsons. 

Union of Northern Workers president Todd Parsons says mediation between the union and Northwest Territories government could resume by the first week of February. (Randall Mackenzie/CBC)

The UNW has posted a list of all essential services to its website. Some positions will remain staffed in case of a strike.

MLAs want a deal

On Wednesday afternoon, a group of MLAs issued a news release calling on the Northwest Territories government to engage in talks with the union.

"We are concerned that the current lull in the talks impacts family life and the economy," stated a release from MLAs Julie Green, Kieron Testart, Cory Vanthuyne, Shane Thompson and Kevin O'Reilly. "As difficult as this is across the Northwest Territories, the consequences of failure should also serve as strong incentive to bargain in good faith." 

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart says back-to-work legislation is a possibility if the UNW and Northwest Territories fail to resolve a labour dispute. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Testart says he and his colleagues are actively asking questions and urging the government to get back to the bargaining table so they can reach a deal.

"This situation has created a level of frustration among many of our constituents that is no longer bearable," he said. "We need to find a way to come together and our role is to speak to cabinet on behalf of our constituents." 

Testart says there's a possibility that if a strike is called, back-to-work legislation can be enforced. He said he and the rest of the MLAs are researching "what the statute clearly says about that."

"We're also aware that the cabinet can force settlement  on the UNW if things still remain deadlocked," he said.

4 collective agreements will expire in 2019

Northwest Territories government employees are one of four groups who will be without a collective agreement in 2019. The Northwest Territories Power Corporation, Hay River Health Authority and City of Yellowknife employees will all be without a collective agreement next year as well.

All City of Yellowknife employees will be impacted once their collective agreement expires at the end of this year.

"We haven't even had the opportunity to have a discussion with the employer yet to even try to schedule it," said Parsons. 

According to the Labour Code of Canada, the UNW and City of Yellowknife must sit down for their first meeting by March. 

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