Inuit tradespeople ‘treated with disdain’ by southern contractors, Kaernerk says

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Some Inuit tradespeople actively seeking work in Iglulik are being overlooked by a Quebec-based contractor building houses in the community, according to Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk.

“They hired the bare minimum of Inuit, and hardly any employment income is coming into the community,” Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk said of a Quebec-based construction contractor working in Iglulik.
photo courtesy of the Government of Nunavut

“There are Inuit electricians, carpenters, plumbers, and oil burner mechanics. Inuit are skilled in these sectors. However, there always seems to be a caveat as southerners treat them with disdain even though they are qualified,” Kaernerk said in the legislative assembly on Tuesday. “They hired the bare minimum of Inuit, and hardly any employment income is coming into the community.”

He called on the GN to increase Inuit labour in the construction industry.

Community and Government Services Minister Lorne Kusugak said GN-issued contracts are continually reviewed and the Inuit labour component is determined based on many factors.

“Different communities also have limited capacity or no experienced workforce, and that happens on occasion,” Kusugak said. “Some communities hire over 60 percent Inuit and many times the contractors end up fighting over the same labour force.”

In addition, some Inuit workers stop showing up for work after receiving a couple of paycheques, Kusugak added.

“It happens with many community projects and I imagine you have observed that in your own community,” he said. “Some Inuit will work for part of the project but never seem able to work to the end, especially after a few pay periods.”

The minister acknowledged, however, that the government is striving to find ways to boost local benefits from contracts and he welcomed specific suggestions from MLAs.

Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main then pointed out that the Inuit labour requirement for the upcoming Cape Dorset health centre construction project is only 25 per cent.

Kusugak admitted that the target is low.

“I am not defending what they are doing but when the contracts are of a larger amount, if you don’t reach the 25 percent Inuit labour content, you will be penalized for not reaching the Inuit employment levels because they work their penalties into them,” Kusugak said.

Main said he would like to see proof that the government is regularly exercising a provision to include Inuit training programs in its large construction contracts.

Kusugak said the GN admittedly has more work to do on that front and the government has identified a way to put more focus on Inuit training.

“We have seen that there is a big need to improve on that,” he said. “We are working on getting a requirement for Inuit training/employment form included in all capital projects of any significance and that that form has to be filled out at the same time as filling out the (request for proposals). I think it’s a very positive step.”

After Aggu MLA Paul Quassa began a line of questioning about hiring more Inuit, Kusugak gave an impassioned response:

“This is not a frivolous matter, but quite serious when talking about Inuit wanting employment and those with the capability to work hard, as this isn’t a trivial issue,” he said.

“And further, we want to be conveyed this information either by Inuit who aren’t being hired or especially in situations where Inuit who are able and willing to work aren’t hired and we especially want to hear from those Inuit. Many contractors just say that no work is available even though there is space. We want to hear from the people looking for jobs who are not given jobs. We want Inuit to be employed every time there’s a contract. We want them to seek out Inuit employees. I am absolutely committed to this requirement, as I want to see a day in our future when the entire workforce for these contracts are working and comprised of local Inuit without a legal requirement to hire locally due to the high numbers of qualified Inuit and no longer need the (Nunavummi Nangminiqaqtunik Ikajuuti) policy due to the numbers of qualified Inuit construction workers.”

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