GNWT accepts union grievances over bonuses and agency nurses

The NWT government has expanded the availability of a bonus payment for some healthcare staff after the Union of Northern Workers submitted a grievance.

In October last year, the territory and union agreed a deal to offer an extra $5,000 to $7,000 – known as a labour market supplement – to some nurses, midwives and lab techs.

At the time, a joint news release stated the money would take the form of an annual retention bonus for the next two years and would be payable to registered nurses, nurse practitioners, midwives, licensed practical nurses and medical laboratory technologists.


But the union later filed a grievance arguing that a range of other positions should also be able to receive the payment.

In late February, the GNWT agreed. In a letter to the union, Department of Finance deputy minister Bill MacKay said he agreed with the union that anyone required “to maintain registered nurse certification with the licensing body” in the territory should be eligible.

In a separate statement to Cabin Radio, the department said “many positions … had been overlooked in the initial payment of the supplement.”

The total number of people affected and additional cost of expanding the bonus are not clear. The change does not apply to Hay River health authority staff, who have a separate bargaining unit.

“It is too bad that we couldn’t come to agreement before filing a grievance, but the outcome is satisfactory,” union leader Gayla Thunstrom said in a written statement following receipt of MacKay’s letter. “We will continue to monitor with the assistance of our members.”


Agency nurse working group to reconvene

Meanwhile, the GNWT has also allowed a union grievance over the use of agency nurses.

The UNW had complained that in the current staffing crisis, the NWT government was using agency nurses in circumstances not expressly set out in a memorandum of understanding that is now almost 20 years old.

In a separate letter, MacKay said the union’s interpretation was strictly correct but argued that the GNWT had no other choice until efforts to hire casual, indeterminate or term nurses paid off.

“Two competitions to hire nurses for obstetrics and operating room units are currently active and will remain open until filled,” MacKay wrote on February 24. “These are the same units where we are currently utilizing the agency nurses.”


The GNWT has asked the union to help re-establish a working group to update the territory’s agreement governing use of agency nurses. The territory told Cabin Radio the working group hasn’t been active since the current memorandum was signed in 2004.

There are 662 nursing positions within the NWT and Tłı̨chǫ health authorities. The GNWT said the territorial health authority “accessed agency nurses 89 times” in the 2022 calendar year.

“There are ongoing concerns from the members with regards to the use of agency nurses, so we believe a joint working group would be useful, as long as recommendations and motions coming from the group are taken seriously,” Thunstrom wrote to Cabin Radio.

“Ideally, the union would prefer to work with the employer to resolve an issue without filing a grievance. However, it is good to have these results too, rather than having to take the longer arbitration route. We hope this could be indicative of a better working relationship with this employer on issues going forward.”