A Message to GN Members Returning to Workplaces From Bill Fennell

Friday, June 5, 2020

On June 1st the Government of Nunavut (GN) announced “the end of the Government of Nunavut’s work from home program for Government of Nunavut employees. Starting Monday, June 8, 2020, GN employees who are currently “working from home” will be returning to their regular workplaces.” 

While the GN is working out the details, NEU Members working for the GN will be expected to return to work as directed by their Supervisors.
Many questions are unanswered and issues may arise only once our Members return to their workplaces. In fact, we have already heard from several Members regarding questions about quarantine and use of leave, we are working on this issue and other areas of concern brought to our attention. 
I call on the GN to be transparent and communicate in a clear and timely manner during this return-to -the-workplace process with all involved parties (employees, the public and the NEU). I trust and hope that the GN will approach this process with same dedication they displayed while (and still) working to keep Nunavut protected from COVID-19.
I understand – and hope that the GN does as well – that employees will have a lot of questions and concerns about their safety when they return to work. Fear is a strong emotion and there is plenty of misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding COVID-19 that can fuel fear. The NEU and GN must work – separately and together where applicable – to make sure that Members’ concerns and fears are properly addressed.
The GN has been working with the Workers’ Safety & Compensation Commission (WSCC) of Nunavut to ensure that workplace precautions are in place that address public health safety concerns as will the NEU for its own reopening of offices (see below).
Nearly three months of ‘staying home’ and social distancing when we did venture out of our homes gave us a sense of security. Now, GN employees are being asked to return to their workplaces in closer physical proximity than we have grown accustom to. To think that people will not have concerns about this would be unrealistic. 
Part of the concerns surrounding COVID-19 is that is an emerging and changing issue. We have been fortunate here in Nunavut and must be thankful for the wonderful work of our Health Care Officials and Health Care Workers in keeping Nunavut as the only COVID-19 free jurisdiction in Canada.
As the President of the NEU, I can say that we have been working – and will continue to do so – with the GN on any outstanding issues that may arise once our Members are back in their workplaces. We will be here for our Members to work through any systemic or individual issues that arise as part of the return to workplaces process as we have throughout the entire ongoing COVID-19 situation.
The NEU is currently looking at reopening our offices, starting with the Iqaluit Head Office during the week of June 15th (update: NEU Offices are now tentatively scheduled to open on June 22nd). What that ‘reopening’ will look like in terms of Member access is not clear yet. We will share the specifics of that once the difficult and important details of staff and public health safety standards and expectations are worked out.
Because we have not had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in our Territory as of today, the recall to workplaces makes sense. If done with the same care and caution as was demonstrated with COVID-19 precautions this should be a manageable process. As with all undertakings of this magnitude and importance, there may be bumps in the road and unintentional missteps. During the introduction and implementation of the COVID-19 precautions, the GN showed a refreshing honesty in recognizing and addressing any mistakes or misses. 
I hope that this remains true as Members come back into their workplaces and promise you that the NEU will be here for you for any concerns you have now, and will be there for you for any issues that arise once you are ‘back in the office’.
In Solidarity
William (Bill) Fennell
President, NEU
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