Nunavut government abuse complaints on the rise, minister says

More than one in four workplace harassment complaints linked to physical assaults, confrontations

By JIM BELL

Nunavut Finance Minister George Hickes, who is responsible for personnel matters, said 27 per cent of employees who have complained to the Government of Nunavut about being harassed at the workplace have complained about physical assaults and confrontations. Also, 47 per cent of departed GN employees said they did not feel safe at work, and verbal abuse is so common, it has almost become normalized. (FILE PHOTO)


Nunavut Finance Minister George Hickes, who is responsible for personnel matters, said 27 per cent of employees who have complained to the Government of Nunavut about being harassed at the workplace have complained about physical assaults and confrontations. Also, 47 per cent of departed GN employees said they did not feel safe at work, and verbal abuse is so common, it has almost become normalized. (FILE PHOTO)

Complaints of workplace harassment, including verbal abuse and physical assaults, are on the rise at the Government of Nunavut, Finance Minister George Hickes said last Thursday, Nov. 8.

“I would say there is a trend and it’s not in a good direction,” Hickes said in a frank response to questions from Arviat North–Whale Cove MLA John Main.

Hickes, as finance minister, is responsible for personnel matters, as well as the GN’s impending return to a standalone Department of Human Resources by April 1, 2019.

Main, who mentioned a recent “ugly incident,” asked Hickes if incidents of violence and intimidation are a rising trend.

Hickes said, yes, they are.

Over the past two years, he said the GN has received slightly more than 100 harassment complaints.

But the GN received more than half of those complaints, 58 in all, during the recent six-month period between April 1, 2018, and the end of September, Hickes said.

“If this is getting worse, I’m very concerned about it and I do not like it, and I recognize that it’s unacceptable in its context,” Main said in a reply.

Hickes also suggested the harassment is not only perpetrated by those inside the GN. GN employees are also harassed frequently by community members.

“By far, the incidents of harassment to employees from community members far exceeds the amount of complaints that we get,” Hickes said.

Main asked Hickes for more details.

The minister replied that exit surveys done with departing GN employees show that 47 per cent of workers who left their jobs “did not feel safe at the workplace” at some point.

And of the 100 or so incidents he mentioned earlier, about 50 per cent were “of verbal or threatening manner,” Hickes said.

But even more disturbing, Hickes said, is that 27 per cent of complaints are about “physical confrontations or physical assaults,” he said.

And when people hear about such incidents, that makes it more difficult for the GN to recruit and retain employees.

“That’s very worrisome to me when we’re trying to provide a safe place for employees to work in and retention of our employees and attraction. Word gets around. People in different professions speak to one another,” Hickes said.

In response, Hickes said the GN has tried to put in more supports for its workers.

“Some of the steps that we’ve had to take, we have assistance lines available for help for our staff, mental health support, sick leave, long-term disability, but those are the things that we don’t want to have to initiate,” he said.

That also includes the installation of alarms, security glass, and security guards in some GN facilities to protect workers.

But above all, Hickes said communities themselves have to accept that harassment and abuse are not acceptable.

“When I talk of verbal abuse, a lot of our cases even go unreported. It has almost become normalized, which worries me, Mr. Speaker.”

And that includes reducing the widespread verbal abuse that occurs on social media, Hickes said.

“Many of us that are on social media, I’m not, but I have seen posts in social media, or even personal public confrontations with staff, belittling or calling somebody out on Facebook,” Hickes said.

That is not a good way to resolve an issue, he said, and following “proper processes” is better than initiating a confrontation.

“When we have a constituent that brings a complaint forward to us, help direct them to the proper way of making a complaint and really disapprove of the process of confrontations, whether it be verbal or otherwise,” he said.

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