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Staffing issues stress Iqaluit's Upper Base Garage

Due to staffing issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the mechanics at Upper Base Garage are playing catch-up.

“I'm two months behind,” said Michel Gilbert, the garage owner. “So you're gonna get your car when you're gonna get your car.”

Michel Gilbert, the owner of Upper Base Garage, says he hopes to fully staff his shop soon. Rajnesh Sharma/NNSL photo

For the past 12 years, Gilbert and his team have been providing vehicle repair services to Iqalummiut. In 2010, he expanded his business to a second location in order to offer repair services for Caribou Cabs- a local taxi service in Iqaluit.

Usually, there are four mechanics including Gilbert working at Upper Base Garage. However, since March the business has been short-staffed due to issues related to Covid-19.

Both Gilbert and a staff member, who were on vacation down south in March, faced delays before being permitted to return to the territory.

As of March 25, the Government of Nunavut requires all residents of Nunavut to complete a mandatory 14-day isolation period down south before entering the territory.

Gilbert said he had to email the Department of Health at least four times before he received the approval to return to Nunavut. After overcoming this ordeal, which he started in early April, he arrived in Iqaluit on May 18.
It took even longer for his mechanic, who returned in June, said the business owner.

Meanwhile, one of his mechanics “panicked” about Covid-19 and decided to leave Nunavut in April, he explained.

At that point, with only one mechanic working at the Upper Base Garage, Gilbert told his employee to close the shop.

Presently, Gilbert is still trying to fully staff his shop. Finding a qualified mechanic who is willing to relocate to Iqaluit and undergo quarantine is challenging, he said. Then, there is the concern of whether the new hire turns out to be a good investment.

“If you hire a new one, you got to put him in quarantine,” said Gilbert. “He does a week, he panics because he cannot handle this place or he's not good ... and (we have) invested all this money.”

The lack of staff has prolonged the time needed to repair vehicles for customers.

Gilbert said he is getting stressed by customers saying, “‘Where's my car? Why are you not fixing it?’”

The business owner is hoping to have his shop fully staffed in the coming month.