Fort Resolution ordered to compensate six former employees
The Hamlet of Fort Resolution broke its collective agreement in laying off six staff while “in disarray” at the start of 2019, an arbitrator has ruled.
The six workers were given temporary lay-off notices in March 2019, but were never recalled. Some testified that they subsequently discovered other people had been recruited to do their former jobs.
Arbitrator John Moreau QC ruled that while there was too little evidence to declare any “calculated malice” had taken place, the hamlet had clearly “ignored” the right of laid-off workers to be recalled when work becomes available.
Hiring other people to do that work also breached the agreement, as did the hamlet’s failure to provide one month’s notice or pay in lieu of notice.
The hamlet has been ordered to reach a settlement with each of the six affected workers.
Moreau’s full ruling includes evidence that Fort Resolution had practically run out of money by the spring of 2019. The late Scotty Edgerton, then the hamlet’s acting senior administrator, acknowledged as much to the Union of Northern Workers as the union began a grievance over the lay-offs.
“The hamlet has been in disarray for a number of months and was able to carry its workers, however the funding ran out and there was no funds left in the account,” Edgerton wrote to union representative Kim Tybring on March 22, 2019.
“To write cheques on an empty balance is illegal. So we had to lay people off till such time we can regroup.
“As for return dates, we will need our workers to run our various programs, however, we must establish funding to run the projects. When these are in order will review our needs at that time, and start asking employees to return to work. We are working hard to correct our situation.”
Yet several of the affected workers told Moreau they had later seen other people doing their jobs despite no attempt to recall them being made.
“The uncontradicted evidence before me is that other individuals were called in to perform the duties of the affected employees, including relatives of Mr Balsillie, who was mayor at the time,” Moreau writes in his judgement, referring to Louis Balsillie, who was replaced as mayor by Patrick Simon in late 2019 but remains Chief of the Deninu Kųę́ First Nation.
Balsillie is separately seeking re-election to the hamlet’s council this fall, a move being challenged by some of the community’s residents, who say it marks a conflict of interest. Balsillie believes he is being unfairly singled out.
“I find that the affected employees were not recalled because the employer, under the leadership of Mayor Balsillie, elected to simply ignore their bargained rights under the collective agreement and substitute other individuals of the employer’s choosing into their positions,” Moreau concluded.
“By doing so, the employer was in clear breach of the recall rights of the affected employees.”
However, Moreau also stated: “I do not see that the circumstances leading up to the lay-offs were motivated by any nefarious reasons other than a lack of money to pay the affected employees.”
Reached by phone on Saturday, Balsillie disputed some of Moreau’s statements.
“People don’t understand where this has all come from. I wish the real truth would come out about how the hamlet became broke,” Balsillie told Cabin Radio, adding he was not able to speak in detail on that matter.
“I’m just floored by it. By blaming me, as mayor, I’m really frustrated,” he said.
According to Balsillie, relatives of his were among people hired through the band, rather than the hamlet, because the hamlet continued to have no money for some time after the lay-offs. “That was the only way we could employ people at the time,” Balsillie said.
In his November 8 ruling, Moreau said the hamlet and union will now have “an opportunity to resolve the claims of each of the affected employees.”
If no agreement can be reached, Moreau said he would retain jurisdiction to rule on appropriate compensation.