Stanton Territorial Hospital in September 2022. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Some nurses, midwives and lab techs are now eligible for $5,000 to $7,000 in bonuses after the NWT government and Union of Northern Workers signed a long-awaited deal.
The union and territory have spent more than a year trying to find a mutually agreeable means of giving out extra cash to help either attract or retain much-needed healthcare workers.
In a joint news release on Wednesday, the two said retention bonuses will be paid to registered nurses, nurse practitioners, midwives, licensed practical nurses and medical laboratory technologists.
The bonuses run to $5,000 for staff in Yellowknife, $6,000 for those in Fort Smith or Inuvik, and $7,000 if working in any other NWT community.
Those sums are payable this month and again – if the employees are still eligible – in October next year, the terms of the deal suggest.
Who, exactly, is eligible depends on the position and form of employment. Term, part-time and some relief employees receive a pro-rated amount.
Recruitment bonuses worth the same amount will be paid to registered nurses, nurse practitioners and midwives hired between now and October 1, 2024.
In March this year, NWT health minister Julie Green said the Union of Northern Workers had blocked an earlier attempt at a bonus package for front-line nurses. The union said that proposal left out too many workers.
On Wednesday, union leader Gayla Thunstrom said the newly agreed deal was “an important first step toward addressing the recruitment and retention problems in our healthcare system.”
Thunstrom added that “more comprehensive solutions” were ultimately needed.
Green said the bonuses and other recently announced incentives – like helping to pay for health workers’ families to visit them this Christmas, or covering costs for international staff moving to the NWT – “will enable the GNWT to be more competitive in our recruitment efforts and to be responsive to the needs of existing staff.”
Extra cash had been a key demand from some employees after many months of low morale across the NWT’s healthcare system, a crisis that has driven up vacancy rates, shuttered whole units, and compounded the local effect of a nationwide shortage of staff.
Caroline Wawzonek, the NWT’s finance minister, said in a statement that her government would ensure “the solutions implemented are sustainable and include policies and processes that will help to prevent future staffing shortages.”