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Marc Miller wants to improve working conditions for First Nations water operators 'as soon as possible'

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says the Trudeau government is working on a plan to improve the pay and working conditions of water operators on First Nations, but he does not know how long it will take.

Miller made the comments at a news conference on Wednesday in response to questions about a recent investigation by Global News, APTN News, the Institute for Investigative Journalism and other media organizations.

Based on in-depth interviews with 122 operators working in First Nations water treatment plants across Canada, the investigation found that more than two-thirds of the operators said they made less than the median wage of the profession in their province. More than half also said that they were on call 17 hours a day and seven days a week.

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“It’s not fair,” Miller said at the news conference in Ottawa.

At least a third of the water operators said in interviews that they were being paid a wage that was lower than the lowest wage for their profession in their respective province or territory, as estimated by the federal government. And about seven per cent of the water operators told the investigation they were making less than $ an hour.

The investigation also found that the government has known for years that its policies and funding formulas are outdated and cumbersome, making it difficult for many First Nations to pay for ongoing maintenance and operations of their infrastructure, including water systems.

Graphic summarizing results of a national survey of water operators in First Nations who reported being overworked and underpaid in early 2020. One of the water operators, Nathan Martell from the Moosomin First Nation, said he worked two jobs, including as a water operator in North Battleford, Sask., 24 miles to the south. He explained that he gets full benefits and is paid more for the work he does in North Battleford, but that he has chosen to continue working in his own nation at the same time.

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“The big thing for me is, it’s our community,” Martell said. “We grew up here and my family’s from here and if they are not getting good quality water, then that drives me… I do not want nobody to get sick or anything to go wrong. And it’s my home. You can not turn your back on home. ”

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About a hundred journalists worked on the investigation, including students from different universities across the country, who conducted in-depth interviews with water operators in early

Miller said the reporting by Global News and its partners was “excellent” and reflects what he has heard in conversations with First Nations leaders.

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