An energy firm has threatened to attack the ability of workers to afford their houses as part of a strategy to end ongoing union-backed strike action.
Crown-owned Qulliq Energy Corporation (QEC) in Nunavut has been in contract negotiations with unions over a pay deal since agreements recently expired.
Unionized QEC workers launched strike action in mid-July over a four-year offer, with proposed salary increases of 2,1,1, and 2 per cent each year respectively.
The Nunavut Energy Union (NEU) instead wants a three-year contract with salary increases of 2, 2.1 and 2.25 per cent over the next three years.
However, QEC’s interim president Peter Tumilty put worker housing subsidies on the table, with a threat to withdraw them while strike action continues.
Lawyers in Nunavut’s finance department are now looking into whether the territorial government can actually legally withdraw the housing subsidies.
Deputy Minister of Finance Chris D’Arcy has said that if so, the revocation of subsidies may be applied retrospectively back until the middle of July.
The threat to withdraw subsidies came in a letter from Tumilty, which also said QEC would stop premium payments for insurance, health and dental.
D’Arcy told the Nunatsiaq News that withdrawing payment of health insurance premiums from striking workers is actually ‘standard practice’.
However, he said that Tumilty issued the letter without knowing for sure if QEC had the legal right to withdraw housing subsidies for its workers.
Executive vice president with the Public Service Alliance of Canada told Nunatsiaq News the letter amounted to a threat to the families of workers.
“It’s like holding a gun to the families — not just to the strikers, but putting the strikers’ families on notice that they too would be suffering,” he said.
QEC currently provides subsidies on 86 leased units and 21 owned units for its employees, according to the Ministry of Finance. The base rent of those units is subsidized, on average, by between 60 and 70 per cent.
D’Arcy told the Nunatsiaq News that it was better for workers to look at the economic situation more closely, as they proceed in negotiations.
“In light of the current economic times, and what the real cost is to continue to work here, I think more and more people need to look at the longer picture.”