Around three quarters of GNWT now back at workplace

A file photo of a currently unnamed government building. Scott Letkeman/Cabin Radio
A file photo of an NWT government building in downtown Yellowknife. Scott Letkeman/Cabin Radio

The NWT government says as of last week, 70 percent of its staff had made some form of return to their regular workplace.

Covid-19 restrictions in the territory have seen all government employees considered non-essential spending at least some time working from home since March.

The number of staff back in their usual places of work has gradually increased in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, NWT government staff in Fort Simpson and some other communities were returning to their offices.



However, the reliability of the 70-percent figure is complicated by the different methodologies used by departments to calculate whether their employees are back at their usual job site or not.

For example, Cabin Radio understands some departments are including workers who have spent any time at their regular workplace – even if that was a matter of hours – in that figure. Others are only including those who are now routinely back at their normal place of work.

The pace at which the NWT government is returning its staff to the workplace and reopening offices has been a source of contention with business groups.

Private sector leaders said recently the territory had “shown no initiative” in adapting its ways of doing business to the pandemic.



Finance minister Caroline Wawzonek, whose department holds responsibility for human resources, said in July her government was “taking a planned and prudent approach to returning employees to the worksite.”

However, while business leaders complain that the GNWT is moving too slowly in returning its offices to some form of normal, the Union of Northern Workers has cautioned against “just marching people back into offices.”

Union leader Todd Parsons last month wrote: “Public service workers do not exist in a bubble, unaffected by the fallout of Covid-19. The ability to work flexibly and remain on full pay has enabled many workers to support affected partners who are suddenly out of work, assist friends and neighbours with childcare arrangements, continue to support local businesses, and reduce the overall strain on public supports.

“NWT residents and businesses are anxious to ‘return to normal’ but we need to think carefully about what the new normal will look like. The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many pre-existing issues in our society and economy that require thoughtful consideration and possibly a new approach.

“The negative side-effects of Covid-19 restrictions are not to be taken lightly, but as we look to jurisdictions in the south, we are already seeing the fallout of what happens when economies open up too fast.”