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GNWT drops request for judicial review over Covid-19 leave


The NWT government will no longer pursue an argument over employees’ leave related to Covid-19 through the courts.

Two arbitrators have ruled that the territory was wrong to stop offering Covid-19 leave – a unique form of leave for people with the virus or unable to work because of isolation – when its public health emergency ended in April 2022.

The arbitrators said the wording of a mid-pandemic agreement that introduced the leave meant it had to remain in place at least until new collective agreements are negotiated with the NWT Teachers’ Association (NWTTA) and with unionized GNWT staff.

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The consequence of that decision appeared to be that the GNWT would have to find a way to retroactively figure out who took leave related to Covid-19 between April 2022 and now, give some leave back, and then reinstate the policy indefinitely.

However, last month the NWT asked the territory’s Supreme Court to review one arbitrator’s decision, alleging arbitrator Andrew Sims had erred in his interpretation of the wording that created Covid-19 leave for teachers.

This week, the territory’s position changed again. The GNWT now says it won’t pursue that judicial review.

“After careful review and discussion with the NWTTA, we have determined that the best path forward is to withdraw our request for a judicial review and re-instate Covid-19 leave for all employees,” territorial government spokesperson Todd Sasaki said by email. Sasaki confirmed the GNWT also will not pursue judicial review of the second arbitrator’s decision, which dealt with unionized GNWT workers.

Instead, the GNWT this week introduced a new system in which employees get up to five days of paid leave per year – in addition to the GNWT’s existing leave allowances – to be used if they test positive for Covid-19, are directed to isolate, or need to care for someone directed to isolate or who has Covid-19.

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“Employees who took leave due to illness from Covid-19 or due to Covid-19 isolation requirements between April 1, 2022, and January 29, 2023 may be eligible for Covid-19 leave re-classification,” Sasaki added.

A territorial government human resources document sets out in more detail how that system will work.

Matthew Miller, president of the NWT Teachers’ Association, said he had been told on Friday last week that the GNWT would withdraw its request for judicial review. Conversations between the territory and teachers’ association continued over the weekend, he said. (The association represents many NWT teachers but this issue does not affect Yellowknife’s YK1 or YCS districts.)

“While the NWTTA and the Government of the Northwest Territories have not agreed to all aspects of the Covid-19 leave letter of understanding,” Miller said in an email, referring to the document that created Covid-19 leave, “there has been progress.”

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Miller said he remained opposed to the idea that the GNWT will now limit staff to five days’ Covid-19 leave per year.

“The limitation of five working days is not specified in the collective agreement. The association disagrees wholeheartedly with the employer taking the liberty to unilaterally restrict the leave, as they did when they removed the letter of understanding,” he wrote.

“We will continue to work to ensure the collective agreement language agreed upon in June 2021 is honoured and followed.”