Media Release: Ongoing Healthcare Staffing Issues

Jul 19, 2022

YELLOWKNIFE: The UNW is once again disappointed to see that the GNWT’s failure to recruit and retain staff is requiring a further reduction in healthcare services.

Unfortunately, this is not a surprise. The union has been drawing attention to the staff shortage since before the new hospital opened, and to the fact that our healthcare workers are overworked, exhausted, and demoralized.

During collective bargaining in 2018, the GNWT wasted time and money fighting union members over paying fair wages that would keep up with CPI and attract more workers to the north.

The employer also continues to act and make decisions without the courtesy of informing our members beforehand; too often the union first learns of these service reductions when they appear in the news or on the GNWT website.

Our members are stuck in a terrible position. They are overworked, stressed, and tired, which in some cases can potentially be a health hazard.

Our members are committed to the health and wellbeing of NWT residents and do not want to cause harm by taking leave or refusing shifts. It is unethical and unfair for the employer to force workers to choose between the health of their patients and their own wellbeing.

In February of this year, the Minister of Health and Social Services announced a half-hearted attempt at a Labour Market Supplement (LMS) that addressed a very limited group of healthcare workers. As an employer, the GNWT then refused to negotiate any of the terms of the LMS and withdrew the offer when the Union had questions and did not immediately and blindly agree. 

The GNWT needs to work with the UNW and other northern labour organizations to find comprehensive solutions to the staffing shortages we face not just in healthcare, but across the entire NWT workforce.

We need a government-wide plan that addresses the fact that shortages in healthcare are impacted by issues in many government sectors: mental health and addictions services, housing, early education and childcare, income security, labour relations and human resources, to name a few.

We also need to address the top-heaviness in our public service, where high-level senior managers burn through funding and resources with endless studies, strategies, and consultants, but have little tangible progress to show for it. This leaves less money for hiring more people on the ground floor who are doing the hands-on work and who deserve competitive wages, benefits, and supplements.

The GNWT needs to make the north more attractive than the rest of Canada in work/life balance, wages and benefits, and positive workplaces, otherwise we won’t attract healthcare workers away from the south or retain the people we already have.

While we are encouraged to see our government actively lobby for more federal transfer funding for healthcare, the GNWT needs to stop hiding behind the “national shortage” excuse for its failure to effectively recruit more workers – now is the time for the GNWT to be creative and stand out as an employer of choice.