The NWT government says no contractor worried about carrying out construction work during the coronavirus pandemic will be obliged to press ahead.
Last week, the territory’s association of construction companies voiced fears that some members felt pressure to continue working even if nearby communities had expressed concerns.
The territorial government has said it wants to use infrastructure projects to help sustain the construction and consulting sectors through the grim economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus.
An exemption in the NWT’s pandemic travel restrictions currently allows out-of-territory construction workers on NWT government projects to head straight to work without mandatory self-isolation for two weeks. (They are still expected to self-isolate once off the job site and keep their distance while working.)
The NWT and Nunavut Construction Association said some communities – it did not identify them – had “refused to let workers enter out of fear.”
In a response to Cabin Radio late last week, the NWT government said it was prepared to let contractors stop work if they believed the risk to be too great.
“Each individual contractor is in a more appropriate position than the GNWT to determine their labour and other needs and the impact of Covid-19 on their project,” said the territorial government in a written statement.
“The GNWT will not require any contractor to continue work on a project where they determine that they should not do so or are unable to do so, whether for a two-week or longer delay.”
Construction companies have questioned whether they will be held financially responsible, under their contracts, for delays resulting from stoppages related to Covid-19.
The NWT government stated: “The GNWT is in contact with communities related to Covid-19 measures and has received some questions and concerns.
“In the event there are specific restrictions imposed by communities that affect contractors, the GNWT would consider such a delay to be beyond the control of the contractor, similar to how the GNWT is treating other delays caused by Covid-19.”
There are around 50 NWT government infrastructure projects planned for this financial year. The territory, however, says “very few” of them have active construction on-site right now.
The GNWT also believes some contractors are using “exclusively or primarily NWT labour,” removing some of the risk associated with out-of-territory workers coming in.
“Certain capital infrastructure projects are also taking place away from communities, such that workers do not need to enter communities,” the NWT government stated.
Locals only at Giant site, for now
Work sites across the NWT are having to cope with the impacts of Covid-19.
In Yellowknife, efforts to clean up the toxic Giant Mine site – which had been in the process of ramping up, with hundreds of jobs set to be created in the coming years – are now being adapted to ensure risk is limited.
Some work must keep going. The former gold mine needs staff on-site to “maintain critical essential care and maintenance services,” a spokesperson told Cabin Radio last week.
However, all of that work is being handled by local staff. The federally led clean-up project has temporarily suspended use of fly-in workers.
“Work to replace a pump and to create a new secondary egress has been put on hold, as this requires the rotational workers from the south and is not essential at this time,” read an emailed statement from the project team.
“No fly-in workers are operating on site or expected to under current conditions, until the project … determines this work can resume.”
The project team said it would make that determination in consultation with its main contractor – Parsons – alongside the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission and the NWT’s chief public health officer.