The NWT government is seeking judicial review of an arbitrator’s ruling that Covid-19 leave offered during the territory’s public health emergency must continue.
In November, an arbitrator ruled that two new forms of leave – created for teachers sick or isolating through Covid – did not end when the emergency ended.
The territorial government had previously insisted the opposite, and had withdrawn those types of leave from April 1, 2022.
But arbitrator Andrew Sims said a 2021 letter of understanding between the NWT Teachers’ Association and the GNWT never mentions a date on which the agreement should expire, nor was its expiry discussed between the two parties, so it should stay until the end of the current. collective agreement in July this year. (Negotiations toward a new collective agreement are expected to begin shortly.)
A separate arbitrator reached an almost identical ruling at the end of December for territorial government workers represented by the Union of Northern Workers, or UNW.
The decisions appear to place the GNWT in the position of having to retroactively adjust the leave records of around 500 teachers and many thousands of territorial government staff.
But on Monday, the Department of Finance told Cabin Radio the territory is challenging the first decision regarding teachers and assessing its options regarding the latest ruling on GNWT staff.
“We have applied for judicial review of the NWTTA decision,” departmental spokesperson Matthew Mallon wrote, using an initialism for the teachers’ association, “and are seeking a stay of the arbitrator’s order in that case.”
A stay would place the arbitrator’s decision and its ramifications on hold until judicial review is complete.
Mallon continued: “We are also reviewing the arbitrator’s decision regarding the interpretation of the Covid leave letter of understanding with the UNW. Once we have examined our options, we will engage with the applicable unions on next steps.”
‘Lack of professional dialogue’
Matthew Miller, president of the NWT Teachers’ Association, said the GNWT’s actions left him feeling “misled.”
After Sims’ verdict in November, Miller said on Monday by email, he had been under the impression that the teachers’ association and GNWT were “working together” to ensure employees’ leave records were adjusted and Covid-19 leave once again offered.
“There was never any indication that the employer was doing anything other than working with us toward implementing the award and the reimplementation of the letter of understanding the parties reached in bargaining,” Miller wrote.
“I am not troubled that the employer has decided to pursue a judicial review of the arbitrator’s decision, which is within their rights and part of the process for disputes. I personally feel misled since the employer gave every indication for almost a month that it would implement the result of the award.
“They could have, at any time, said they were also simultaneously contemplating a judicial review. This lack of professional dialogue is eroding our relationship as we prepare to head to negotiations. It has led to a loss of valuable time, again delaying a benefit for our members first agreed to during negotiations and then reaffirmed by Arbitrator Sims.”
Miller said he saw no reason why the GNWT could not reintroduce Covid-19 leave, as ordered by the arbitrator, then make further changes if a judicial review ultimately finds in the territorial government’s favor.
“We are confident we will again successfully uphold a negotiated right for our members,” he added.