December 19, 2018


Negotiations between the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) and the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT), the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA), and the Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC) appear to be at a standstill. As a result, a number of residents of Hay River – including union members, private sector employees, and business owners – have expressed their concerns to me about the effects, and potential effects, of this impasse. Public confidence in the Government’s ability to find a solution is waning, and fears of a strike are growing. In light of this, I am once again asking you and your Cabinet colleagues to help bring these negotiations to an end by getting back to the bargaining table with a revised mandate and negotiating strategy that will allow for a deal to be struck.

As the MLA for Hay River North, my role is not to negotiate on behalf of the Government or the Union – my role is to advocate for my constituents, regardless of their affiliations, and many of them have made clear that they find the unending lack of progress towards collective agreements unacceptable. Several constituents, in both the public and private sectors, are already experiencing negative effects caused by the failing negotiations, and fear that the worst is yet to come.

According to virtually all GNWT, NTPC, and HRHSSA employees that I’ve spoken with, the successive years of staff and budget cuts combined with the lack of progress towards collective agreements is taking a heavy toll on labour relations, staff morale, and overall faith in the Government among public servants. These are serious concerns not only because the Government has a responsibility to provide a positive work environment, but also because they add to the GNWT’s ongoing difficulties retaining and attracting the qualified staff needed to serve our residents. However, the more immediate and pressing concern of many unionized employees is whether or not they will be forced into a strike action, and if so, whether or not they will be able to pay their bills and afford the necessities of life for themselves and their families.

This uncertainty has resulted in a drop consumer confidence that is being felt by the private businesses that have been experiencing lower than expected sales this season, and the charities that have found it more difficult to raise money this year. The increasing likelihood of a strike is also increasing trepidation among companies that provide goods and services to the government. Many businesses are fighting to keep their doors open and keep people employed, and reduced sales or the loss of a revenue stream could be their last straw. While our territory has much potential, the current economic climate makes the NWT a challenging place to operate a small business, and the uncertainty surrounding the negotiations is further compounding those challenges.

I have spent the last three years deliberating the GNWT’s budgets, studying our economy, and contemplating the future of our territory, so I am well aware of the Government’s substantial current and future fiscal challenges. However, while all would agree that it is prudent to consider these challenges during negotiations, they must not be used as an excuse to avoid negotiating. Difficult financial times do not absolve the Government of its responsibilities to ensure that fair collective agreements are in place, to ensure residents have access to services, and to foster a positive economic environment.

I trust that you and your Cabinet colleagues will give serious consideration to the issues raised by the residents of Hay River. I encourage you to put in the effort and make the changes necessary to conclude the collective agreements in a timely fashion and in the best interests of all our residents.

RJ Simpson
MLA Hay River North