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Labour Views: Finding Balance in the Public Service

Feb 28, 2024

The Union of Northern Workers is gravely concerned about the Fiscal Strategy that was recently announced at the Ledge.

After reviewing the strategy and the media release that announced it, the focus appears to be on finding “efficiencies” in programs and services, with no mention of evaluating efficiencies and redundancies in senior administration or management.

As with most attempts by the GNWT to evaluate themselves, we have questions about how the upcoming review will be conducted. Will senior management within each department be evaluating themselves alongside their program staff?

Will the results of the employee survey be made available to employees or to the public? Will employee feedback be taken seriously? Or will they be quietly ignored if they don't align with the Premier or Finance Minister's goals and objectives?

Ironically, over the past year we've seen senior management positions grow at a faster rate than bargaining unit positions (8% compared to 1.5%). Is this the most efficient use of public resources? Is the current ratio of senior management to program staff appropriate for delivering programs and services? Or is it causing bottlenecks and unnecessary delays?

Despite a “growing” public workforce, NWT residents continue to experience increasing interruptions and reductions of the services they rely on, and threatening to cut services as we face a growing healthcare crisis and extreme climate events seems very short sighted.

The efficient delivery of government services requires adequate capacity and resourcing. Cuts at the program level will put more pressure on front line and service delivery workers who are already overwhelmed and burnt out, leading to more turnover and longer wait times for the public.

Our economy is precarious as it is; if austerity measures put MORE pressure and stress on workers, they will leave the north.  That means less money going back into NWT economy and local businesses. 

We understand the economic pressures our government is facing, and sometimes the hardest decisions are figuring out how to save jobs and services rather than jump to cuts. This is why unions spend a lot of time and energy researching and advocating for solutions that balance job security with fiscal responsibility.

So how can the GNWT save money?

One suggestion is to look at where the GNWT can reduce the duplication of senior management resources through amalgamation. For example, combining all the community housing authorities under one collective agreement.

Currently, we have NWT Housing - which is essentially a GNWT department, and then each community has its own local authority which is funded by the GNWT. Bringing them together under a single management structure while maintaining community-level positions and decision-making would save time and money on bargaining and administration. It would also mean housing workers across the NWT would earn consistent wages and enjoy equal benefits.

Another example is the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, which currently competes with the NTHSSA for staff and resources, on top of competing with the south.  Most people don’t even know that HRHSSA jobs are not posted in the same place as GNWT healthcare jobs.  If the GNWT is footing the bill for the HRHSSA anyway, why not bring them into the public service?

Given the current healthcare crisis, now is the time to reduce the insane amount of money being spent on health administration and redirect it toward healthcare workers.

Speaking of healthcare workers, another suggestion is to ditch the government’s reliance on agency workers. While the GNWT appears to be writing blank cheques to southern staffing agencies, they’re fighting their own employees over modest measures that would significantly improve recruitment and retention.

Bringing in temporary workers who are paid more, have no personal stake in the wellbeing of the community, and who take opportunities away from those who  live and work here, is terrible for workplace morale and retention. It is also undermining the quality and consistency of care that northern residents deserve.

If the GNWT is serious about creating a more “balanced” public service, any review of “efficiencies” needs to include the activities of the most senior levels of management, not just programs.

Our public service cannot function without the people who actually do the work. If the GNWT wants to "restore balance" in a fiscally responsible government, it needs to start at the top.