The Council of Commissioners reviews incentives aimed at reducing travel from regions outside Nunavik over the Christmas and New Year holidays amid the COVID-19 pandemic

The Council of Commissioners finds itself in a difficult position whereby a set of measures it adopted to protect Nunavik communities from COVID-19 and ensure the continuity of educational services delivery, also results in increased disparities between the working conditions of its employees. These disparities are rooted in collective agreements that do not represent the interests of unionized Nunavimmiut and polarize our workforce along ethnic lines.

The Council of Commissioners’ objective has always been to provide the same working conditions to all Kativik Ilisarniliriniq employees. Under its current mandate, the Council of Commissioners has relentlessly advocated to the Quebec government with the goal of offering housing and outing benefits to all its unionized employees.

This battle is still on-going.

It is being waged on many fronts, including:

  1. The collective agreement negotiations currently in progress.
  2. A case filed before the Superior Court of Quebec through which Kativik Ilisarniliriniq is seeking to exercise rights guaranteed under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement that would enable it to directly negotiate the working condition of its employees.

Every year, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq manages the logistics surrounding the travel of over 500 Nunavik-based workers, concentrated over very short periods of time (start of the school year, Christmas and New Year holidays, March break and end of the school year). On November 9, 2020, the Kativik Ilisarniliriniq Council of Commissioners approved incentives aimed at reducing the travel of its employees from regions outside Nunavik over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

These incentives were approved in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and their goal is to protect Nunavik communities from the risk of spreading COVID-19 infection.

In addition to protecting Nunavik communities from COVID-19, the Council of Commissioners intended to minimize the impact that health measures surrounding travel back to Nunavik has on the delivery of educational services. The staggered travel of employees to Nunavik, their quarantine upon arrival and the staggered reopening of school, that was organized for the start of the school year could jeopardize the school year as a whole if it were to be organized around the Christmas and New Year holidays.

The incentives approved by the Council of Commissioners are offered to all employees, Inuit and non-Inuit, who are entitled to outing benefits under their respective collective agreements. In recent days, many Nunavimmiut employed by Kativik Ilisarniliriniq have expressed their dissatisfaction with these incentives. At a special meeting held on November 16, these incentives were reviewed by the Council of Commissioners. They were adjusted to reflect the Commissioners’ initial equity intention.

As per the resolutions adopted on November 16, unionized employees who are entitled to outing benefits under their collective agreements are asked to consider not traveling back home to spend the Christmas and New Year holidays with their loved ones. In exchange, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq is offering them a taxable lump sum. The amount of this taxable lump sum is determined by the value of their return ticket to the Nunavik community where they are employed.

The Council of Commissioners recognizes that many Kativik Ilisarniliriniq unionized employees are not entitled to outing benefits under their collective agreements. The Council also recognizes the extra strain that the COVID-19 has had on employees whose permanent residence is a Nunavik community. Taking this into consideration, the Council of Commissioners approved the payment of a taxable COVID-19 wellness lump sum to employees who are not entitled to outing benefits under their collective agreements. The amount of the lump sum payment and its calculation formula were adjusted in a resolution adopted on November 16.

At Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, the salary scale and benefits package are the same for all Inuit and non-Inuit employees. Kativik Ilisarniliriniq does not endorse any discrimination based on ethnicity.

The salary of employees is determined according to their education and years of experience. All employees also have access to the following benefits: parental rights, special leaves, retention premiums, isolation premiums, transportation for food allowance, sick leaves, insurance and pension plan and employment protection rules.

In addition, employees who have to relocate for work because they are recruited within a distance greater than 50 km from their employment location are provided housing and outing benefits. For example, an employee from Inukjuak recruited to work in Kuujjuaq, Puvirnituq, Salluit or any other Nunavik community is entitled to housing and outing benefits.

The Council of Commissioners is well aware that the 50 km rule creates disparities between the working conditions of its employees; employees recruited within their community tend to be Inuit while employees recruited within a distance greater than 50 km from their employment location tend to be non-Inuit. This is a situation that Kativik Ilisarniliriniq (along with other Nunavik organizations) has inherited from years of collective agreement negotiations that have repeatedly failed to represent the interests of unionized Nunavimmiut.

The Council of Commissioners’ objective has always been and remains to provide the same working conditions to all Kativik Ilisarniliriniq employees, without being subject to the 50 km rule.

The uproar Kativik Ilisarniliriniq is now facing from employees who are not entitled to outing and housing benefits under their collective agreement very clearly illustrates the urgent need to change a system that blatantly discriminates against unionized Nunavimmiut. We urge the Quebec government to hear us out, and support Kativik Ilisarniliriniq in addressing these issues at their core, so that our employment and remuneration practices can be aligned to that of other Nunavik organizations that have successfully broken down these barriers to offer equal treatment to ALL their employees.

Finally, the situation of Nunavik students who are sponsored under the Kativik Ilisarniliriniq Post-Secondary Sponsorship Program has also been subject to criticism. The Council of Commissioners would like to clarify that sponsored students who are not traveling over the Christmas and New Year holidays were offered a taxable COVID-19 wellness lump sum payment. The amount of this lump sum payment also takes into account the sponsored student’s number of dependants. It is also important to mention that the payment of sponsored students’ regular allowances is not interrupted during the Christmas and New Year holidays, regardless of whether or not they travel.

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