Government makes “Donny days” optional

No more mandatory days for Nunavut government workers.

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

MICHAELA RODRIGUE

IQALUIT — Nunavut’s public servants can kiss “Donny Days” good-bye, but only if they want to.

The Nunavut government has scrapped mandatory days off without pay for management and contract workers as of April 1, but unionized employees will have to sign on to the idea in their collective agreement before it takes effect.

Human Resources Minister Kelvin Ng told MLAs this week that the government will not shut down its offices to cut costs.

“Donny Days” were named for former NWT Premier Don Morin, who instituted the measure in the mid 1990s as a part of a series of measures aimed at staving off an impending deficit.

Under the program, a percentage of public servants’ pay cheques were set aside to provide income to employees during the mandatory days off that took place between Christmas and New Years.

In its first year the Nunavut government set aside 1.92 per cent of employees pay cheques to provide income during the days off. Teachers were not included.

One year after division, the Nunavut government is carrying a surplus, not a deficit and doesn’t need the mandatory days off, Ng said.

“We aren’t looking at it from a cost-saving perspective. We’re looking at it from an additional benefit to employees perspective. Obviously we won’t need any extra revenues right now. We’re in a surplus position,” Ng told reporters.

But those employees who enjoyed the five extra days off can continue to have a portion of their pay set aside and take the five days off when they choose.

“A lot of employees wanted the five days off. For them it didn’t impact them, in that it was spread out over 26 pay periods,” Ng said. “We’re expanding it to give them more flexibility, extra long weekend, extra annual leave, whatever they choose,” Ng said.

But the president of Nunavut’s largest union said the new program “is like offering air,” since employees can already take as many unpaid days off as they want.

“Offering optional leave without pay days is an insult,” Doug Workman, president of the Nunavut Employees Union said. Right now employees can take days off without pay at the discretion of the deputy minister, Workman said.

Instead, the union is proposing more days off with pay or discretionary leave with pay.

Workers must opt into the program to continue having deductions made and must receive approval from their supervisors for their chosen days off.

MLA Levi Barnabas to rose in the legislature to question the government about the days off. He said the government should not continue to impose “Donny Days” when it’s not carrying a deficit. But after listening to Ng’s explanation about the now-optional program, Barnabus was satisfied.

“I think there should be a policy, but it’s really up to the Nunavut employees. It’s optional,” Barnabas said.

But Iqaluit Centre MLA Hunter Tootoo questioned why the government would implement the policy on April 1 before members of the Nunavut Employees Union bargaining unit have ratified a deal and can be eligible.

“I realize that it is a positive thing, but my why are these things coming out and being offered to some employees and not others,” Tootoo said.

Ng said the policy the government inherited from the GNWT expired and the government had to make a decision. He said the optional days off are part of the government’s proposal to the union’s bargaining team.

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