N.W.T. gov't says special COVID-19 sick leave for teachers should end

Desks inside Yellowknife's Range Lake School in 2020. When COVID-19-related restrictions in the territory were lifted last spring, the territorial government told the teachers' association that special COVID-19 sick leave would no longer be available.  (Randall McKenzie/CBC - image credit)
Desks inside Yellowknife's Range Lake School in 2020. When COVID-19-related restrictions in the territory were lifted last spring, the territorial government told the teachers' association that special COVID-19 sick leave would no longer be available. (Randall McKenzie/CBC - image credit)

The government of the Northwest Territories wants the court to overturn a decision about teachers keeping additional COVID-19 sick leave in their contract.

In 2021, the Northwest Territories Teachers' Association signed an agreement with the territory to create a new type of leave for teachers sick with COVID-19. That agreement meant teachers wouldn't have to use their annual sick leave if they had to claim time off for COVID.

When COVID-19-related restrictions in the territory were lifted last spring, the territorial government told the teachers' association that that special leave would no longer be available.

The president of the teachers' association, Matthew Miller, challenged that, arguing that the agreement dictated that the additional sick days would be in available for as long as COVID is a threat. He pointed to teachers and families continuing to contract the virus, as well as repeated school closures due to COVID-19.

Arbitrator Andrew Sims reviewed the case and agreed with the association.

He said the agreement didn't set a date for the end of teachers' COVID leave, and that it should remain in place as a result.

In his decision, he said he couldn't see why the parties would presume that once the public health orders expired the "impact" of the pandemic would be over.

Kate Kyle/CBC
Kate Kyle/CBC

Now the government says the arbitrator's decision should be quashed.

According to documents filed to the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories, the territory is arguing the arbitrator "unreasonably restricted the scope of factors" in his analysis of the agreement.

The government says Sims didn't consider the full context in which the agreement was signed. It says that context includes both the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the declaration of the public health emergency.

The government's argument is that the arbitrator's decision is based on "improperly and unnecessarily" narrow context. It says the agreement is premised on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and also on the impact of subsequent public health orders.

The teachers' association is set to renegotiate a new contract when the current one expires on July 31.

The government of the Northwest Territories and the N.W.T. Teachers' Association are set to appear in the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories on March 24 for a pre-hearing conference.