The NWT’s health minister says the Union of Northern Workers blocked a bonus package for front-line nurses, a package the union says was too narrowly focused.
Extra cash had been a key demand from some employees after many months of low morale across the NWT’s healthcare system, a crisis that has driven up vacancy rates, shuttered whole units, and compounded the local effect of a nationwide shortage of staff.
For months, the territorial government and union have each promoted the idea of using the labour market supplement policy – an earlier agreement between the two that allows the government to offer bonuses “to deal with recruitment and retention problems.”
In the legislature on Tuesday, health minister Julie Green said her government had drafted a plan based on that policy that would give bonuses to a group she termed “front-line registered nurse positions and medical laboratory technologists” in the NWT. The size of that proposed bonus was not made public.
Green said the bonus would have served to recognize the efforts of existing staff and attract new workers. However, the minister continued, the union had rejected it.
“According to the collective agreement, to apply the labour market supplement policy, the GNWT must first consult with the UNW on the terms being considered – and unfortunately, the approach proposed was not agreed to,” Green told MLAs in prepared remarks.
“While I am disappointed, I want the public and healthcare workers to know that we will continue to engage with the UNW on other ways to support the recruitment and retention of healthcare professionals.”
The union, in a written statement responding to Green, said the proposed bonus package left out many workers. Gayla Thunstrom, the union’s president, also criticized the manner in which she said the territorial government had offered the deal.
“The employer recently presented the union with a ‘take it or leave it’ offer of a labour market supplement that only included a small segment of ‘front line’ registered nurses and medical laboratory technicians,” Thunstrom wrote.
“The employer’s offer was a slap in the face to all our other UNW nurses and healthcare specialists who are working under the same pressures and staff shortages.
“The UNW requested more information and further discussions about which healthcare positions should be in included in this labour market supplement or, alternatively, an additional one. The employer declined to discuss further and withdrew the labour market supplement offer completely.”
According to Green, the NWT is the only area of Canada that lacks a registered nurse recruitment bonus, a consequence of having traditionally offered such high salaries that the bonus was not necessary to attract staff. Now, with other jurisdictions fighting for the few available workers, the NWT’s basic salary package is no longer as attractive.
In the legislature, the minister said the territory was also working to attract NWT residents into healthcare positions using tools like transfer programs for new graduates and bursaries.
She reiterated a range of surveys and consultations are taking place, a process that has been ongoing for half a year or more. No results have so far been shared.