A file photo of the community of Fort Simpson. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The Covid-19 pandemic’s effect on staffing at the Village of Fort Simpson was examined by councillors at a meeting on Monday.
Councillor Kirby Groat questioned whether staff were being best used. “The staff that we have basically are not working,” he told colleagues on council, given the scaling back of activities during the pandemic.
“If this proceeds – if Covid-19 and the situation are the way they are – and we do not see an end in sight, do we plan on giving a number of staff a week off every second week going forward?”
Groat told Cabin Radio he isn’t looking to lay off staff but reallocate them to avoid measures like placing people on a week-on, week-off rotation.
“Half of our staff [are] on holiday and half of [staff] working just doesn’t seem like a long-term solution,” he said.
“We have to … put them back to work. We’ve got summer, we’ve got mowing, we’ve got, you know, thousands of outside maintenance operations to take care of.”
Speaking prior to the NWT’s announcement of its pandemic recovery plan, senior administrator Darrell White said he was “hopeful that changes are coming.”
He added that while staffing levels at facilities had been reduced, work on projects was ongoing.
“We are hopeful, I think, that we are going to see some of the restrictions relaxing in phases,” said White on Monday, stressing the village should operate “in a way that we feel supports and protects the workers as best we can.”
If changes don’t come, White said, “we would be continuing on as we are now.”
At Monday’s meeting, Mayor Sean Whelly said a number of issues would be raised by any changes to unionized staffing during the pandemic.
“It brings up the whole issue [of] possible legal ramifications,” said Whelly.
“Basically, you could lose the staff you have. And they also could say, no, we don’t accept such a furlough that basically you’re laying us off. We want all the benefits due us through the union.”
Whelly wants staff to examine what kinds of recreational programming could be launched – creating work for employees – now that the NWT’s recovery plan is available.
Speaking to Cabin Radio, Whelly said layoffs would be a tough thing to do.
“It’s not like we’re worried about revenues because our budgets are going to be set,” he said. “[There’s] no indication from the territory that they’re cutting back on funding or anything else like that.”
‘Emerging wisely’ plan released
On Tuesday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola released the territory’s plan to slowly re-emerge from pandemic-related public health restrictions.
The NWT’s plan, dubbed Emerging Wisely, states non-essential territorial government workers – and other office-based workers – can expect their workplaces to reopen in the second phase, currently forecast for mid-to-late June.
“If you look at the pattern for phase one and phase two, what you’ll notice is a lot of restrictions have been eased for outdoor activities, outdoor gatherings – because the risk is … a lot lower than indoor,” said Dr Kandola.
“We don’t want to reverse all the good milestones we’ve captured. In phase two, we’ll start increasing the number of people indoors, but also we’ll have to have mitigation measures to protect the workers as well.
“So this is what we’ll be planning once phase one is initiated. We’ll be working on phase two … phasing in other non-essential GNWT workers and other private businesses and other scenarios where we have to have more people indoors.”
White said: “Once we get approvals on buildings being able to open, we will certainly be ramping up staff back to their full levels and getting everything back to normal.”
It’s unclear how many unionized workers in the NWT have been laid off during the pandemic. A spokesperson for the Union of Northern Workers said the union did not have the information readily available.
Friday may see the start of recovery phase one and an initial easing of restrictions, Kandola said, if the situation does not deteriorate in the interim.