Nunavut lacks Inuit civil service staff | Polarjournal
Plans by the Governments of Nunavut and Canada to increase Inuit employment in the territory do not meet the commitments of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement signed in 1993, says a Canadian arbitration decision as Inuit in Nunavut, an Arctic territory with a population of 40,000, are hard hit by unemployment. Image: Wikicommons.

After five years of litigation, an arbitration ruling recognizes that the Governments of Nunavut and Canada are not doing enough to promote and support Inuit employment in the public service.

A Canadian arbitrator has ruled in favour of an organization representing the Inuit of Nunavut that the plans of the federal government and the Government of Nunavut to support and increase employment in the region do not meet previously signed commitments. These were established 1993 in the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. The ruling states that both the federal and the regional governments violate in particular Article 23, which aims to increase the number of Inuit employed by the government in Nunavut to a significant level.

Thirty years later, Nunavut still is far from that goal. The inuit in Nunavut hold only 57% of the number of public service positions even though they make up 85% of the total population of the region.

Hence, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), the organization responsible for representing the Inuit of Nunavut, had decided to initiate legal proceedings in 2018. An arbitrator finally ruled in their favour on March 25, finding that the Governments of Canada and Nunavut had failed to put in place action plans explaining how they would increase and maintain Inuit employment at a significant level, nor had they been able to report on how these goals would be achieved.

NTI President Aluki Kotierk at a press conference in Iqaluit following the arbitration court ruling. Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated is the organization responsible for implementing the Nunavut Inuit Land Claims Agreement. Image: Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. / Facebook.

In addition, the arbitrator concluded that both governments had taken a narrow interpretive approach to the language of the Nunavut Agreement that was not sufficiently comprehensive and did not take into account the main overall objectives of the Agreement, including financial compensation for Inuit and the means to participate in economic opportunities, as well as to encourage Inuit self- sufficiency and well-being,” noted the May 10 NTI press release.

“This decision marks a turning point in the lives of Nunavut Inuit and in advancing our social and economic position within the Nunavut Territory and in reminding the governments to comply with their legal obligations under the Nunavut Agreement,” said Aluki Kotierk, President of NTI.

Unemployment and under-representation

The reason why NTI had challenged both the federal and the regional governments becomes apparent when looking at the unemployment figures for Nunavut. Last October, the unemployment rate reached 14.8% in the territory. Compared to the national unemployment rate of 5.2%, this represents a massive discrepancy. More worryingly, unemployment was most prevalent among young people aged below 24, according to figures published by the Government of Canada in its Labour Market Monitor.

In addition, Inuit in civil service jobs are often in non-permanent positions, i.e., seasonal, contract, casual, or temporary, and are underrepresented in scientific, supervisory, and management positions.

NTI now has 60 days to discuss matters and solutions with the Governments of Nunavut and Canada, the two major employers in the region. A return to arbitration is possible if the parties do not reach an agreement. Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok has already committed, in a statement released May 11, to respond to NTI within the deadline, while noting that his government has already created associate deputy minister positions to train Inuit in leadership roles and streamlined the direct appointment process to get more Inuit into fixed positions.

In Canada, arbitration is a method of dispute prevention and resolution. It is generally used to replace a trial and the arbitrator can be chosen by the parties as opposed to a judge who is appointed by the state.

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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