The NWT government has ended a rule limiting employees to five days of Covid-19 leave per year, effectively completing a climbdown in a dispute over the measure.
In April last year, when the territory’s pandemic-related public health emergency ended, the GNWT stopped offering unlimited Covid-19 leave to staff and teachers who were sick with the virus, isolating or otherwise affected.
But both the Union of Northern Workers and NWT Teachers’ Association argued that their collective agreements had been amended to include Covid-19 leave – and the territorial government could not unilaterally take it back out again.
The GNWT initially fought that interpretation, but two separate arbitrators agreed with the unions and the territorial government called off a request for judicial review in February.
At the time, the GNWT said Covid-19 leave could stay but would be limited to five days per employee each year, a limit the NWTTA again disputed on the grounds that no such rule existed in the original agreement.
“GNWT employees are no longer limited to five working days of paid Covid-19 leave per fiscal year,” a Department of Finance spokesperson confirmed earlier this month.
“Employees who meet the required criteria – including testing if requested – for Covid-19 leave will have access to that leave as needed.”
Matthew Miller, president of the NWTTA, said the GNWT’s eventual acquiescence “demonstrates that an employer cannot unilaterally remove language from a mutually agreed-upon collective agreement.”
“It is unfortunate it took almost a year for a resolution through an arbitrator’s decision and referring the matter to the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories,” Miller said by email. “In the end, we are pleased we proved members’ negotiated rights need to be respected.”
Covid-19 leave will exist at least until new collective agreements are drawn up with the unions involved. The UNW collective agreement for GNWT staff expires at the end of this month, while the NWTTA collective agreement expires at the end of July.
Importantly, when collective agreements expire, their provisions remain in place until a subsequent agreement is reached.