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Plans for Inuit employment breach Nunavut Agreement, arbitrator rules

Marie Belleau (left), managing counsel for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which manages the Nunavut Agreement, and Aluki Kotierk, NTI's president at a briefing in Iqaluit.  (David Gunn/CBC - image credit)
Marie Belleau (left), managing counsel for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which manages the Nunavut Agreement, and Aluki Kotierk, NTI's president at a briefing in Iqaluit. (David Gunn/CBC - image credit)

An arbitrator has ruled the Government of Nunavut's Inuit Employment Plans don't comply with the Nunavut Agreement, and neither do those of the federal government.

In her ruling, Arbitrator Constance Hunt said the territorial government's plans fall short in several aspects.

Specifically, they fail to set out long-term goals for Inuit employment at the Government of Nunavut (GN) and action plans to achieve a fully representative workforce.

The employment plans, according to the arbitrator, are also structured in a way that make it difficult to know whether there has been progress toward a representative workforce.

The ruling is part of a dispute Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) launched back in 2018, in which it said the territorial and federal governments were not living up to the Inuit employment expectations laid out in Article 23 of the Nunavut Agreement.

Broadly, the article says the government workforce should be at a "representative level." In a territory that is 85 per cent Inuit, that would mean that the Nunavut government contained a similar proportion of Inuit employees.

The latest territorial Inuit Employment Plan (from 2017) shows a target of 2,300 full-time Inuit employees by March 31, 2023.

The plan estimates that would mean Inuit would make up about 58 per cent of the GN workforce.

The Nunavut government said it had reached 52 per cent Inuit employment across its workforce, as of December 2022.

At a press conference Wednesday morning, Marie Belleau, managing counsel for NTI, said the plans were not "ambitious enough."

"It's been 30 years since the signing of our agreement and now we're still at only 50 per cent, and it's much lower at higher levels of the government," said Aluki Kotierk, NTI's president.

"This is very concerning."

Justin Tang/CP
Justin Tang/CP

GN accepts arbitrator's decision

Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok said in a statement Wednesday that the territorial government accepts the arbitrator's decision.

"The GN will continue to develop and implement detailed, specific, and ambitious Inuit Employment Plans aimed at increasing Inuit participation in government employment to a representative level," he said.

He added that the government has taken action to support these plans, including the introduction of associate deputy minister positions aimed at mentoring Inuit moving into leadership roles. He said they are also looking at ways to support decentralization and provide more ways for GN employees to work from any community.

NTI will now enter the second phase of the arbitration process with the territorial and federal governments, in which the three parties will try to come up with a plan to address the issues outlined by the arbitrator.

They have 60 days to do this, and Akeeagok said the GN is committed to responding to NTI's proposed remedies within that time.

However, if the parties can't agree, the arbitrator can review remedies, including financial ones.

"The biggest achievement would be to actually have the obligations outlined in Article 23 fulfilled … so we don't find ourselves years from now again trying to figure out how we can impress upon the governments how important it is to live up to the obligations," said Kotierk.

A statement from the office of Dan Vandal, minister of Northern Affairs, said the government is still reviewing the arbitrator's ruling, but that increasing Inuit employment "remains a priority for our government."