Nunavut Employees Union says using vacation time for isolation “unfair”
“It’s a slap in the face”
Government of Nunavut employees who opt to travel south this summer say they’re being forced to use personal vacation time while in mandatory COVID-19 self-isolation.
As per the GN’s requirements, anyone who plans to re-enter the territory must first complete a 14-day quarantine period before they can return north.
But employees say that policy is unfair, and that workers should not have to jeopardize their income and personal time during a global health crisis.
The issue became apparent “almost immediately” once the GN put in place restrictions on travel to and from the territory in late March, said Bill Fennell, president of the Nunavut Employees Union, which represents 4,800 government employees.
The union has met with various government ministers and officials to relay employees’ frustrations over the last couple of months.
“We told them it’s unfair,” Fennell said. “You have essential service people with no quarantine going right into the workforce. But if someone wants to go see a family member they haven’t seen for a while, they have to use leave.”
“Unfortunately there is nothing in the collective agreement that would prohibit that, so, really, it’s just talking to the politicians and trying to get them on side,” he said.
COVID-19 has already put undue stress on workers and has meant increased workloads for some, the union said.
Forcing employees to use vacation time or annual leave also drives a wedge between certain union members and other categories of government employees and representatives, Fennel said.
“We have a lot of casuals who come here to stay for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, while indeterminate people are based here,” he said. “And we’ve lost some longtime people in recent months.”
“It’s a slap in the face,” Fennell said. “Sure, it would be best to have a staycation, but that’s not workable for everyone.”
Fennell said his discussions with government officials suggest there is sympathy for the position of employees, but the GN has maintained that this is a decision made by its chief medical health officer.
For its part, the GN said it’s made sure to communicate with employees throughout the pandemic.
“When the Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) established the isolation sites for all Nunavummiut returning to Nunavut, our employees who wished to travel south were informed of the need to comply and take into account isolation requirements when planning their leave,” said the Department of Human Resources’ acting deputy minister, Grant McMichael, in an Aug. 6 email to Nunatsiaq News.
“For as long as the isolation sites are in place, GN employees, like all Nunavummiut who voluntarily travel outside of Nunavut, must isolate at a GN isolation site for 14 days prior to returning to the territory,” he said.
“The 14 days isolation period is considered as part of the employee’s leave time, unless operational requirements call for remote work while in the isolation sites, with prior approval from the appropriate department.”