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Labour Views: The five days of Christmas

Dec 01, 2021

On the first day of Christmas, my employer gave to me… five mandatory days off with no pay at the most expensive time of the year. Back in the mid-1990s, led by then-premier Don Moran, this was the GNWT’s plan to save millions of dollars over the holiday season.

These “Donny Days”, as they came to be known, were touted as a cost saving measure that would allow many government workers to spend more time with their families over the holidays and help balance the budget. What they really were, was the GNWT’s attempt to correct their fiscal mismanagement on

For a long time, the GNWT continued to promote the wage cut as a benefit – workers would have more time to spend with their families, or could travel! But unionized workers refused to buy it.

In the following years, UNW members continued to pressure the GNWT to turn their penny-pinching scheme into a genuine benefit for workers. In 2005, the UNW negotiated one of those days to be paid, and in 2009 the UNW was successful in turning the pay cut into five days of paid leave.

Of course, the employer was happy to take credit for our members’ hard work. In 2013, the GNWT was recognized as one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers. The Globe and Mail cited the “…generous compensation and leave packages, such as five paid holidays during their dark winter” as one of the reasons the GNWT believes they were chosen.

Contrary to popular belief, the entire public service doesn’t shut down over the holidays – our members work year round serving the public. In fact, for many public service workers, the holidays are one of the busiest times of the year. We thank these workers for keeping the roads clear, the lights on, and the health centres open – and that’s just to name a few!

Those workers still get their five paid days, but can take them at different times of the year. This ensures residents can still access important services, while workers still get their well-deserved break.

Recent years have become especially stressful for our healthcare workers, who are finding it increasingly difficult to take advantage of time off. Staff shortages and poor management of HR resources mean many of our frontline members are working longer days and more shifts during a time of year that is traditionally used for rest and being with family.

Work-life balance is one of the key issues we hear when workers talk about retention. Being able to afford living in the north is another. Mandatory Leave Days provide most GNWT workers with both – time off for rest and recuperation during one of the darkest and coldest times of the year, along with the financial security to properly enjoy that time off.

Getting the most out of our tax dollars means getting the most out of our public service workers, and that means showing respect and appreciation for the work they do. Whether it’s on the front lines or behind the scenes, the services they provide are often taken for granted.

Mandatory Leave Days have become a way of life for many NWT residents during the holidays. The UNW has always believed that the rights and benefits our members fight for should set the standard for all NWT employers. It’s nice to see other organizations and businesses now offer their workers similar days off.

We also appreciate the local businesses that do stay open over the holidays. One of the many benefits of having well paid workers with extra time off is the money that goes back into our economy. The UNW is proud of the contributions our members make to our society, and we encourage our membership to continue to shop local and take advantage of their union discounts with our local business partners!

The UNW wishes everyone a safe and healthy holiday season.

In Solidarity,
Gayla Thunstrom, UNW President