Nunavik health board a toxic workplace

Tension mounts between French and Inuttitut-speaking workers


Stress, conflicts and invisible walls are separating employees at Nunavik’s regional health board office in Kuujjuaq.

That’s what employees who attended a meeting on workplace relations, held earlier this summer, say.

Since this staff meeting, they say nothing has eased the tension between Inuit health board employees and their mainly French-speaking co-workers.

“Often French-speakers, when they’re together, speak in French even when they’re with Inuit,” said a regional health board employee who wished to remain anonymous.

“And the Inuit don’t understand. French-speakers have to make a larger effort to make sure we are involved and to speak English.”

Inuit say the regional health board’s policy on communication states that English is the working language at the board office, but that this policy is not respected. They say there are severe communication problems at many levels, no links between the health board’s various departments and a pervading atmosphere of mistrust.

“We are in a vicious circle and it has to stop,” said an employee during the May 29 staff meeting.

“One of the biggest problems in this office is control. Indeed, there are people who like to control everything, so they don’t share the information. And this is not respectful to others,” said another.

At the meeting, others cited instances of favoritism and examples of conflicts of interest, such as a female department manager being her spouse’s boss.

“It needs to be reorganized. Everyone is shocked,” said the anonymous employee.

Many Inuit have already left the regional health board for other jobs, and others are planning to leave, say sources within the Kuujjuaq health board office.

About 60 are employed at the regional health board’s office in Kuujjuaq.

According to a leaked set of minutes from that meeting, the health board’s interim executive director, Gilles Boulet, who is replacing Jeannie May while she is on maternity leave, admitted “there is an obvious language problem, and some people may interpret the language barrier as racism.”

Boulet said he wanted to find ways to help employees to be happier at work.

Comments from the staff meeting note that:

* There is mistrust, racism and a lack of communication at the regional health board office in Kuujjuaq;
* There is a language problem, with some meetings taking place in French or with a lot of French discussion;
* Many documents sent by Quebec’s health department to the health board are in French, and, due to the length of the documents, it is often very hard to translate everything;
* There is more and more French spoken at meetings even when decisions are made “and this is not correct because Inuit co-workers cannot understand conversations when they are asked to participate in decision-making.”
* There is lack of transparency, equity, and too much favoritism: “moreover, if we speak too much there can be consequences in our evaluation.”
* Unlike most of the Inuit, many southern employees at the regional health board hold a university degree: “with these people coming with such knowledge, could there be more coaching to Inuit co-workers? So, please, show them what you have, share what you have to Inuit. Train Inuit on the job.”
* The regional health board needs to give Nunavimmiut more regular updates and news.

At the meeting, one employee suggested the creation of “a crisis intervention team/committee” to carry out a “serious inquiry” among regional health board staff and produce a report.

According to one board employee, an outside consultant was finally hired for the review because it was felt “Inuit don’t have enough judgment, and others said Inuit weren’t organized enough.”

A consultant, Edith Loring-Kuhanga, has started to interview employees who have been asked to fill out questionnaires about their work at the regional health board.

Loring-Kuhanga is a Gitksan from Hazelton, BC and the president of First Nations Training & Consulting Services, which provides training and consulting services to First Nations peoples across Canada.

Tackling these issues, which have been known for some time, shouldn’t be that difficult, according to a former board employee.

“It’s a management question. These issues are well known, there are management techniques to handle them, and if you don’t carry them out, well, then, you’ll be swimming in shit.”

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