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UNW says GNWT ‘wasting time and resources’ fighting Covid leave

Last modified: January 11, 2023 at 3:27pm


The Union of Northern Workers says it expects the GNWT to appeal a recent arbitration ruling that handed the union a victory over Covid-19 leave.

The territorial government has now lost back-to-back arbitrations over Covid-19 leave: one in November with teachers and one late last month with the UNW.

Both times, arbitrators said Covid-19 leave – a special form of leave for staff infected with or isolating because of Covid-19, that doesn’t count toward ordinary allowances – shouldn’t have been withdrawn by the GNWT when the public health emergency ended in April 2022.

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The territorial government decided the lifting of public health orders was its cue to scrap Covid-19 leave. But both arbitrators said the GNWT’s agreements with unions that introduced Covid-19 leave mentioned nothing about ending the leave in those circumstances.

The arbitrators ordered the GNWT to reinstate Covid-19 leave as an option and “make employees whole” by reassessing past leave taken between April 2022 and now.

But the territorial government has already appealed the arbitrator’s ruling that delivered a win for the NWT Teachers’ Association, an appeal that arrives in the form of a judicial review, where a judge will be asked to scrutinize the decision.

And the Union of Northern Workers believes the same thing will happen with the December decision in its favour, though the GNWT has said it is still assessing its options regarding that second verdict.

“As we’ve seen with the recent NWTTA decision, and with our past experience with the GNWT, they will most likely file a judicial review,” said UNW president Gayla Thunstrom in a statement to Cabin Radio.

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“Which would be unfortunate, because the employer shouldn’t be wasting time and resources fighting protections for the health and safety of their workers and the northerners they serve.”

Thunstrom said the GNWT’s resistance to such rulings “doesn’t set a great example when the health department is asking the public to stay home if you’re sick, while the human resources department is discouraging workers from following that advice.”

She urged any UNW member unable to work because of illness or isolation related to Covid-19 to “contact the UNW immediately” if they have to use regular sick leave rather than Covid-19 leave.

NWT deputy minister of finance Bill Mackay, in a statement issued after this article was first published, said Thunstrom’s comments regarding employee sickness amounted to “an inaccuracy.”

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“As an employer, the Government of the Northwest Territories has a shared responsibility with all employees to prioritize their health, safety, and wellbeing and to address employee needs with compassion and understanding,” Mackay’s statement read in part.

“The GNWT encourages all employees to stay at home when sick and does not – under any circumstances – discourage workers from following that advice. The GNWT offers generous benefits to allow employees to follow this advice without disrupting their income.

“Employees that are showing symptoms of illness but feel like they can still work can contact their supervisor to discuss any available options including remote work. The GNWT also has a duty to accommodate employees in instances in which their ability to do their job has been impaired.”

On Twitter, Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson said the GNWT’s decision to seek a judicial review of at least one ruling regarding Covid-19 leave showed the territory was “officially over thanking workers for their service through the pandemic.”

The process of seeking judicial review of the teachers’ decision begins in NWT Supreme Court next week.