Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy, who is also the MLA for Great Slave, won’t be voting in favour of a motion today to accept binding arbitration as an option to avoid Monday’s expected strike by territorial government employees and workers with the NWT Power Corporation. 

Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy

The motion is being presented in the legislative assembly today by Yellowknife Centre Julie Green, seconded by Kam Lake MLA . If the motion fails and mediation talks today and tomorrow also prove unsuccessful, unionized workers will go on strike at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

NNSL Media obtained an email from a constituency outlining his reasons. Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne has also announced he will not be voting in favour of binding arbitration motion. The constituent’s request to the minister , who asked not to be named, and the minister’s response to it are as follows:

Constituent’s email

Hello Minister Abernethy,

MLAs Julie Green and Kieron Testart will be putting forward a motion calling on the government to enter into binding arbitration with the UNW before potential strike. As a constituent of Great Slave, I am requesting you please support them in their efforts.

Thank you


Minister’s response

Thank you for your e-mail. I appreciate your comment. Like you and every resident of the NWT I, and my family, will be impacted if there is strike action. I have family members and many friends who are UNW employees, as well as small business owners and like other citizens I rely on health services that could be affected if the strike goes ahead. The possibility of a strike is deeply concerning.

Nobody wants a strike and the GNWT is going into mediation this Friday with the intention of making an agreement.

We hope the UNW also will approach mediation with the goal of reaching an agreement.

The Public Service Act describes the process for achieving a new collective agreement with the UNW. We are currently at the mediation stage and intend to reach an agreement through our discussions. We have an experienced mediator to assist us in those discussions and, as part of the process, he may provide formal written recommendations after our meetings. We believe we should wait until the mediation session has taken place and see if the mediator chooses to offer any recommendations before we make up our minds that the process has not worked or decide on next steps, including binding arbitration.

The request for binding arbitration is problematic for a number of reasons. First, the Public Service Act does not include any provision for binding arbitration to settle negotiations over a collective agreement. Should we try to adopt this approach now, we would need to adjust legislation and that would take time. We also would need to work with the Union to develop a process on how binding arbitration would be undertaken as there are many different approaches and there is no guidance in the legislation. The Act does set out provisions for binding arbitration to settle grievances, but that is a different situation and those provisions do not apply to the current negotiations.

It is important to note that binding arbitration removes freedom of choice from both the employer and employees and subjects them to the decisions of a third party. We think it is better that elected leaders (UNW and GWNT) and the people they represent retain the right to decide on the terms of an agreement. It is noteworthy that binding arbitration was taken out of the legislation at the request of the UNW in the mid-1990s as they wanted the right to strike.

Another issue is that to agree to binding arbitration before mediation essentially ensures that there is little incentive to negotiate at mediation. The parties focus should be on reaching an agreement at the upcoming mediation that can be put to a vote of the UNW membership before we start contemplating turning the decision over to an arbitrator.

I also am attaching a link to a Cabin Radio article that explains some of the history around binding arbitration:

I strongly believe that a deal will be reached when both sides attend mediation with a focus on the greater good and with a focus on the best interest of all 44,000 residents of the NWT including the 4,000 UNW employees counting on a fair and reasonable collective agreement.

Mársı | Kinanāskomitin | Thank you | Merci | Hąį’ | Quana | Qujannamiik | Quyanainni | Máhsı | Máhsı | Mahsı̀

Glen Abernethy

MLA Great Slave

Minister, H&S



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