Nunavut’s restored Human Resources department set to launch on April 1
Department starts off with $26.7M budget, 45 vacant positions
Amid demands from MLAs to hire more Inuit, reduce workplace harassment and reduce the use of casual workers, the officials who run the Government of Nunavut’s reborn Department of Human Resources say their restored entity is ready to roll as of April 1.
“With the new structure we will continue to strengthen human resource capacity across the public service; refocusing HR policies and programs towards Inuit employment at all levels of the public service,” Human Resources Minister Lorne Kusugak said on Saturday, March 9, in committee of the whole, where MLAs looked at the department’s 2019-20 budget.
Regular MLAs also welcome the restored department, which will start up again after being dissolved in 2013.
“This is a great day…. It is something that I know as an MLA I have been calling for a long time,” Iqaluit-Niaqunnguq MLA Pat Angnakak said.
The standalone HR department will get $26.7 million in operating funds, Kusugak said, appearing before the committee with the HR deputy minister, Sheila Kolola.
Of that money, $17.5 million will go toward wages and benefits for 112 HR positions and 16 Sivuliqtiksat program interns, while service contracts will cost $4.5 million and purchased services will cost $2.3 million, he said.
Multiple staff shortages
But that’s only on paper. The revived HR department will start off struggling with the same staff shortages that have plagued most other GN departments since 1999.
In reality, only 65 of those 112 HR positions were filled and 47 sat vacant as of March 1, Kusugak said.
Of those 65 people, 35 of them, or 54 per cent, are Inuit and 30 are non-Inuit. That’s slightly higher than the GN-wide proportion of Inuit employees, which sits at around 50 per cent.
For the 16 Sivuliqtiksat intern positions, which are part of a program designed to help prepare Nunavut Inuit beneficiaries for management jobs in the government, eight of those are filled, Kusugak said.
The original Human Resources department disappeared on April 1, 2013, after the Nunavut cabinet decided to move parts of it into the Department of Finance and other parts of it into the Department of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs, as part of a sweeping bureaucratic retrofit that started in 2012.
But last year, newly appointed cabinet minister George Hickes, who had championed the idea as an ordinary MLA, announced the GN will bring the department back.
The new department will start off with a lengthy to-do list, including the development of a human resources strategy, carrying out Inuit employment plans, increasing the use of Inuktut in the workplace, developing a new employee wellness division, and starting the design of a “respectful workplace” program aimed at reducing bullying and harassment.
“Realistic timetables” for Inuit employment increases
The new department should develop “realistic timetables” to increase the proportion of Inuit working at the GN, Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main said in a report given on behalf of the standing committee on operations.
He provided the following numbers:
• Total number of GN positions: 5,014.
• Total number of job vacancies: 1,475.
• Total number of Nunavut Inuit employees: 1,770.
• Total number of non-Nunavut Inuit employees: 1,768
“In order to achieve an 85 per cent Inuit workforce for a fully staffed government, the government needs to hire approximately 2,492 new Nunavut Inuit employees and not lose a single one of its current Nunavut Inuit employees,” Main said.
He and Pangnirtung MLA Margaret Nakashuk later said MLAs have high expectations for the new HR department.
More complaints about harassment
Meanwhile, Angnakak repeated complaints she’s made in the past about the extent of workplace harassment at the GN, but also praised the planned development of a workplace wellness division, which the new department has started working on.
However, she criticized the inadequate response of some GN managers to employees who are targeted by harassers.
She referred to a female employee she knows who was sexually harassed by a male co-worker.
“She brought that up to her supervisor and the supervisor did nothing for a long time,” Angnakak said.
And even after she made a formal complaint, the woman was required to work alone with the man on the weekends.
“I know that the GN says that all staff are supposed to work in a safe environment. Well, with this case, she didn’t feel safe at all,” Angnakak said.
She also decried the use of “fact-finding meetings.” That’s a session held to deal with workers who run afoul of the rules.
“It is not the way to go. Fact-finding meetings have become like a kangaroo court instead of really trying to help the staff get better,” Angnakak said.
She said that’s because they often turn into harsh interrogation sessions that produce “broken” people.
“I haven’t found one person, not one, that said that these fact-finding meetings were helpful. Not one. They felt they were under attack all the time,” Angnakak said.
And she also criticized the GN’s family and employee assistance program, saying it’s not effective.
“I know somebody very close to me that used this program and it made it worse because basically she was told to go and meditate for a week. That was the solution,” she said.
Kusugak responded by saying the GN will soon be issuing a new request for proposals seeking a contractor to offer its employee assistance program.
“We will try and I encourage any employees out there who have been in contact with this service and hear if they had any good comments and bad, I would like to hear both of them and see what we can do going forward,” Kusugak said.
Nunavut MLAs gave the third reading to Bill 15, which authorizes the GN’s 2019-20 budget, on March 11. The bill became law on March 12, the last day of the legislature’s winter sitting, when it received assent from Commissioner Nellie Kusugak.