Finance minister Caroline Wawzonek addresses reporters on February 4, 2021. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The NWT’s finance minister expects Hay River’s healthcare workers will, eventually, receive retention bonuses similar to the ones just awarded everywhere else.
Many healthcare workers in other NWT communities are now eligible for bonuses of $5,000 to $7,000 this year and next year for remaining in the territory’s health network during a nationwide staffing crisis.
But because Hay River’s health authority has its own collective agreement with the Union of Northern Workers, those staff weren’t included – an important exception that neither the NWT government nor the union initially publicized.
Rocky Simpson, the Hay River South MLA, has become the latest voice calling for that to change.
Speaking in the legislature late last week, Simpson said he had heard from multiple Hay River healthcare workers who “paint a picture of dwindling morale” following the news that they, alone, do not receive the bonuses being handed out elsewhere.
“In their own words, they are feeling disrespected, undervalued, and underpaid,” Simpson said, calling on the Hay River health authority, union and GNWT to work together.
The union and authority are currently involved in collective bargaining negotiations. That fact has been used by officials as a reason why no bonuses have been announced in Hay River yet – negotiations are ongoing – and by critics as a reason why bonuses ought to have been figured out far more swiftly, given negotiations are ongoing.
Caroline Wawzonek, the NWT’s finance minister, holds responsibility for signing off on agreements known as labour market supplements that trigger bonuses like these.
In the legislature, Wawzonek said there was no question of the sums involved being an issue.
“Given the size that we were dealing with … for the rest of the [NWT-wide] health authority, the cost that might attach to Hay River I expect to not be significant. As such, it’s not something that gives me great concern moving forward. I’m confident that they’ll be able to reach an equitable solution,” Wawzonek said.
“They’re sitting down at the table right now, in the midst of bargaining. It’s a good opportunity to utilize the policy that we have in place, to apply it to Hay River, and to determine exactly whether they have the same needs as the NTHSSA or whether they have slightly different needs, and then to bring that forward.
“Assuming they are going to be going forward – and I expect they will – with the labour market supplement, that will then be specific and tuned to the needs of the people in Hay River.”
Simpson expressed concern that if nothing happens, “we’re going to end up losing healthcare workers in Hay River” as the nurses, midwives and laboratory technicians who would receive the bonuses end up looking elsewhere.
But Wawzonek stressed she believes a solution is not far off.
“I think a lot of information has been going out over the last few days to assure the workers that they are being heard,” the minister said on Friday.
“The [bargaining] process that’s under way right now, it is going to take that into account. They won’t be left behind.”