The Government of Nunavut had 1,576 positions to fill as of its latest public service status report at the end of March, meaning the territorial government was running at 70 per cent capacity.
The job vacancies are raising concern among some observers, including Nunavut Employees Union president Bill Fennell and Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak.
The government’s overall staff capacity has been edging downward over the past few years. It was at 73 per cent in March 2018, then fell to 71 per cent in 2019 and 2020.
Fennell said the high number of vacant positions results in “an unacceptable burden on existing staff.”
“Burnout, serious mental and physical issues as well as stress on staff family life are a direct result of the Government’s HR (human resources) policies and failures,” he said.
In the midst of attempting to negotiate a new collective agreement for GN employees, Fennell said the GN’s recruitment woes may lie in its treatment of existing staff.
“In most departments, managers have no idea of issues facing their employees such as family responsibilities, childcare challenges and food insecurity,” he said. “At this point, I am not surprised that the GN is having trouble filling vacant positions.”
Angnakak recently expressed concern specifically about correctional workers, noting that there were more than 100 unstaffed positions within the Department of Justice in Iqaluit. While addressing Justice Minister George Hickes in the legislative assembly on June 2, Angnakak pointed out that the department awarded a $172,000 contract to a consulting firm in 2015 to conduct an organizational review of staffing and overtime issues within the corrections division.
Hickes conceded that corrections has been a “volatile trade.”
“It has been very difficult to keep people long term and it’s a very stressful position,” he said.
The minister said one solution should be the introduction of new scheduling software that the GN was in the process of finalizing, adding that COVID-19 has caused delays and also interrupted staff training opportunities.
“This last year has been very challenging from the corrections staffing standpoint, so I do want to acknowledge the work that the department is doing, and trying to do better on, and will continue,” said Hickes.
Angnakak subsequently submitted written questions to the GN on the issue and she’s waiting for responses.
“I don’t know how they can run the (correctional) facility properly without staff! The new facility they are building will only add to the stress and it seems like the lack of GN housing plays a huge role to the overall hiring process across the government. I’m not sure how they will rectify the issue anytime soon,” Angnakak told Nunavut News.
Grant McMichael, assistant deputy minister of operations with the Department of Human Resources, said the pandemic has impacted the territorial government’s staffing process due to offices sometimes having to shut down and in-person interviews being infeasible. Additionally, some hiring managers were pressed into action on the GN’s COVID-19 response and that delayed hiring competitions.
Nevertheless, the Department of Human Resources is working with a vendor to launch an online staffing system, said McMichael. The system will help candidates find positions that match their skill set and notify candidates, if desired, of positions they’re interested in as well as the status of their application.
“The system will result in shorter cycle time to hire and the ability of recruiters to manage more competitions,” McMichael stated.
The government’s Building Capacity Committee – consisting of deputy ministers – meets regularly to discuss issues such as workforce plans, budgets, staff housing, investment in systems and capital projects.
Human Resources is also co-ordinating with other GN departments to develop their workforce plans, which are aligned with Inuit Employment Plans and identify immediate operational requirements to focus on priority hiring for critical positions.
As well, the department is helping to create multi-community staffing competitions to address positions that are vacant in assorted communities.
Fennell, meanwhile, is focused on reigniting collective bargaining to improve terms for existing and future civil servants.
“Earlier this year, the NEU asked members to write to their MLAs to get the stalled collective bargaining going again. The recruitment issue is just another outstanding problem with the GN’s policies and HR management,” he said. “Perhaps members should be pressuring their MLAs to stand up for GN workers and how they are treated, or, maybe members should remember at election time which politicians stood by while horrible policies and practises have placed unsustainable pressure on GN staff.”