During strike action, not everybody walks out. Some positions are agreed by the union and territorial government to be “essential services,” and must be maintained.
In the past week, the territorial government has begun contacting workers occupying those positions – and the Union of Northern Workers has posted department-by-department breakdowns on its website.
Having such agreements in place is a key requirement for a legal strike to be called.
Public posting of essential services agreements does not necessarily mean a strike is any closer. Both the union and the territory have expressed commitment to a second round of mediation, though no firm date for the resumption of talks has been made public.
The union has increasingly warned of strike action in recent months, characterizing a dispute over wage increases as its main grievance. Collective bargaining negotiations between the two parties are meandering toward a fourth year.
What happens to your pay?
The union also issued a Q&A for members on the nature of essential services agreements and how GNWT staff are affected.
The constitution of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) – of which the Union of Northern Workers is a component – states essential services workers must give the union 25 percent of the pay they receive from the territory during a strike.
“Members who receive remuneration during a legal strike of their bargaining unit, shall be required to remit 25 percent of the remuneration they receive from the employer for each day worked during the legal strike to the PSAC,” states section seven, sub-section 24 of the constitution.
The Union of Northern Workers did not respond to three requests from Cabin Radio, sent between November 15 and November 23, attempting to clarify how this would apply to essential services employees should there be a strike, and how it might be enforced.
However, in the Q&A published on its website, the union adopted significantly softer terminology than that set out in the PSAC constitution.
“One way for designated [essential services] members to support striking members who will not be receiving a salary during legal strike action is to donate 25 percent of pay they receive from the employer while working during legal strike action,” reads the Q&A.
“The money received is set aside in a Hardship Fund which will help support striking members who are in a financial crisis thus strengthening the strike and our picket lines.”
Rather than terming the 25-percent payment a “requirement,” the union simply called it “the right thing to do.”
Department by department
Here is a summary of the positions considered essential under the agreements as published by the union.
Note that some positions not mentioned below are given an “emergency” designation – meaning the jobs are not considered essential, but employees may be summoned to work in emergency situations.
Other ‘excluded’ positions, plus senior management posts, are those occupied by employees who are not union members – and are unaffected by strike action.
Several security and custodial positions are listed, plus a “residence life supervisor” responsible for the security and safety of students and those on-campus.
Education, Culture, and Employment
Two security positions at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre are considered essential, with what appear to be reduced duties.
An applications and data maintenance manager is retained, as are half-days for a systems analyst and financial operations manager.
School secretaries will be asked to work for one hour per weekday. Special needs assistants working on a one-to-one basis with students will need to attend school if the student does.
Twenty-four client services officers – who run the territory’s income security program – are listed as essential.
Depending on the length of a strike, early childhood consultants may be deemed essential to carry out daycare inspections and administer funding.
Two other financial managers and a career development manager will be retained.
Environment and Natural Resources
A range of positions in Fort Smith are deemed essential, such as the manager of fire operations (who leads wildfire response), the supervisor of aviation services, and a fire records coordinator.
Related positions, like the air tanker base manager, are also on the list, as is the manager of forest management services.
Wildland fire crews and many fire-related positions across the territory are essential, as are some materials managers and renewable resource officers.
In Inuvik, the executive director of the Inuvialuit Water Board is listed, as is a GIS (geographic information system) specialist in Hay River.
Just two positions in this department are listed as essential: a systems administrator working a 20-hour week, and one benefits officer.
Health and Social Services (Department)
One communicable disease consultant and two environmental health officers are on the essential list.
Health and Social Services Authority
Unsurprisingly, this is a long list.
Child and Family Services workers, mental health workers, community health centre staff, home care workers, medical clinic staff, public health nurses, long-term care employees, hospital staff, and some support workers – including medical travel officers – are all listed as essential.
In all, more than 400 positions appear on the health authority’s essential list in some shape or form.
A handful of technical managers and an applications developer are the only staff deemed essential.
The UNW’s published agreements are with the old departments (transportation and public works), but those agreements would be applied to the present Department of Infrastructure.
Some maintenance positions at airports are considered essential, alongside firefighters at Yellowknife Airport.
The Fort Simpson ferry crew is listed, as is a marine manager in the Beaufort Delta.
A range of highway maintenance crews, public facility maintenance crews, and engineers are designated essential across the territory.
Two maintenance enforcement staff and two legal aid administrators (plus court workers when required) are on the essential list.
A range of court staff, from sheriff’s officers to a court reporter, court managers, and a jury administrator, are also on the list – but the agreement states they will only work to such a degree that disruption to the court system is avoided.
Case managers and some probation officers are also required. The chief coroner’s post is listed not as essential but as an emergency on-call position.
A manager related to the territory’s environmental assessment work, a regulatory specialist, and a resource management officer are all listed as required to be on-call during working hours.
Municipal and Community Affairs
No positions at MACA are considered essential. However, the NWT fire marshal and support staff would be on call.
Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency
Some staff at the Jimmy Erasmus seniors’ home will be retained, as well as two home care positions, and some nurse positions with associated staff in Behchokǫ̀, Whatì, and Gamètì, plus a lay dispenser in Wekweètì.
Seven social workers are deemed essential across Behchokǫ̀ and Whatì, as are a handful of bus drivers for school pick-up and drop-off.
Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission
The WSCC will continue to operate with a range of claims staff, assessors, and case managers, with associated positions.
A few payroll and pensions staff are also on the list.
Separate documents set out that:
- union members acting in excluded or senior management positions will have those assignments terminated if a strike begins;
- the GNWT will try to keep union executive members off the essential and emergency lists; and
- the territorial government can call in additional staff if there is an unanticipated emergency, but must immediately begin talks with the union about resolving the situation.