A President's Message to the GN from William (Bill) Fennell

Over five months ago the Government of Nunavut (GN) announced that it was closing schools and daycares throughout the Territory in response to public health safety concerns regarding the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. The Nunavut Employees Union (NEU) publicly supported that decision and applauded the GN for putting the safety and health of Nunavut first. 

Part of the success in protecting Nunavut from COVID-19 has been requiring mandatory quarantine for those traveling outside the Territory prior to returning to Nunavut. This move was fair and consistent with other efforts and initiatives to keep us all safe and Nunavut free of COVID-19.

Unfortunately, this is where consistency ended.

In late March Members who work for the GN started calling us with concerns related to being forced to use their annual leave to cover stays in quarantine. 

It is important to note that there is nothing in the GN Collective Agreement (or any other existing Collective Agreements) that specifically deals with annual leave and global pandemics and that the NEU tried to work with the GN to come up with a fair solution to this situation.

However, as I previously discussed in two media interviews with the Nunatsiaq News and Benefits Canada, the GN has not remained consistent or fair in how it enforces the mandatory quarantine policy. Certain workers have been allowed to enter the Territory (based on arbitrary designations) without having to partake in the mandatory quarantine that indeterminate GN employees are required to.  

That was the first a slap in the face to GN employees.

The GN employees who are forced to quarantine and use their annual leave to do so are the same people who have chosen to make Nunavut their home and contribute to our communities and economy. While health care and other ‘front-line’ professionals toiled tirelessly through the worst of the pandemic they were not thinking about anything but the safety of Nunavut and protecting their fellow residents. Now some of them want and deserve a break to see family and friends down South. Yes, in a perfect world, Members could take their vacations in Nunavut or take a break with a 'stay cation' in their home community, but, this is not realistic or desirable for all. It is for these individuals that we are asking the GN to show some compassion and understanding. 

We are also asking the GN not to forget or ignore what they did and do for all of us by making them use their annual leave to cover quarantine time while failing to explore or discuss other possible solutions to this unacceptable situation. 

The GN is capable of making exceptions and looking at alternatives. It is just who the exceptions are being made for that we have an issue with.

On August 4th the GN delivered a second slap in the face to GN employees by announcing that Nunavut Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) are exempt from quarantine requirements when on “official travel”. 

So does the GN believe that being a politician or an employee with a certain designation makes these individuals immune to COVID-19? No. Is it because the GN does not understand that you can keep Nunavut safe while showing compassion and respect to employees? Yes. (For further proof of the GN’s lack of respect and consistency, I invite you to read the most recent Bargaining Update  -#8.) 
If quarantine is so important that GN employees are forced to use their annual leave to cover the days they spend in the hubs, then why is it that not every single person who comes (or comes back) to Nunavut required to quarantine?  

The NEU supports mandatory quarantine. We also support consistency and fairness and call on the GN to find reasonable alternatives to arbitrarily forcing their indeterminate employees to use their annual leave to cover time spent in the hubs while allowing others to skip quarantine completely.

In closing, I would suggest that Members and other GN employees contact their MLA (you know, the ones that can freely return to Territory after leaving on “official travel”) to get this matter to the forefront of the GN’s inconsistent vision on this matter.

In Solidarity  
William (Bill) Fennell
President, NEU


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