Union of Northern Workers negotiators said extra federal funding for NWT healthcare should be used to improve the pay offered to Hay River health workers, who have endorsed strike action.
In strike votes over the past two weeks, the UNW said an “overwhelming majority” of staff at Hay River’s health authority backed job action. The union has consistently not disclosed the full results of such votes.
A “yes” vote does not automatically trigger a strike, but empowers the union to declare one if a deal with the employer is not reached.
“We are hopeful that the strong mandate you have provided us will send a clear message to the employer to table a deal that values and respects the work you do,” union negotiators stated in a message to affected members this week.
Hay River’s health authority – a separate entity to the NWT health authority – says it is offering workers 1.5-percent annual pay increases for 2021-22 and 2022-23, matching the increases received by territorial government staff in their collective agreement for the same period. (The last collective agreement for Hay River health workers expired in 2021. The current disagreement is over a deal that, even if it is eventually signed, will have expired months ago, necessitating an immediate return to bargaining.)
Earlier this month, the health authority stated: “If the union remains insistent on increases that are greater than 1.5% in 2021 and 1.5% in 2022, then a strike or lockout might be the likely outcome.”
The health authority says its offer is highly competitive and it is trying to avoid a staff walkout. The union, by contrast, has said the offer is not enough, without publicly specifying its demands.
This week, the union bargaining team said it hoped a newly finalized federal funding deal with the NWT government would “result in a new offer that reflects the contributions of HRHSSA workers.”
Ottawa announced last week that it has signed a $361-million deal with the NWT over the next 10 years, which includes “$73 million for a new bilateral agreement focusing on shared health priorities.”
Most, if not all of that cash was announced in February. How much, if any, is genuinely new money was not clear. The addition of an extra $73 million over 10 years appeared to be broadly anticipated by the territory’s health minister in February, who said at the time such sums did not “represent a very significant portion” of the $610 million the NWT currently budgets for healthcare annually.
A Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson said that money is targeted at “family health services, health workers and backlogs, mental health and substance use, and modernizing health systems,” without specifying what change any of those broad areas might see in practice.
Once an action plan to spend the cash is complete, the spokesperson said by email, more information will be made public.
The union bargaining team, quoting the federal government’s news release about the funding, said it hoped the money would “truly work to ‘ensure a resilient and supported health workforce that provides residents with high-quality, effective, and safe healthcare services.’”
The earliest Hay River healthcare workers can strike is August 19, if no deal is reached in the interim. In that event, the health authority has said it will “continue to deliver services to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate or serious danger to the health and safety of the public.”