The NWT government is asking business owners and employees to provide their feedback on the rules that set out the territory’s minimum employment standards.
Two new surveys – one for employees, the other for employers – ask a range of questions about how the law should govern issues like the minimum wage, different types of leave and employee protections.
“The realities of work have changed” since the Employment Standards Act was last updated, the territorial government states.
“A thorough review of the act is needed to ensure efficiency, understanding, and compliance. The legislation also requires review to make sure that it’s on par with the minimum standards of employment in other Canadian jurisdictions.”
The surveys ask questions about the likes of entitlement to paid sick leave, how gig workers should be protected, flexible work arrangements, various types of leave, and vacation pay.
Deep in the middle of the survey is a related question: should there be a new public holiday?
At the moment, the NWT doesn’t recognize February’s Family Day as a statutory holiday, unlike many other Canadian jurisdictions. (By contrast, the NWT recognizes National Indigenous Peoples Day in June, as does the Yukon, whereas the provinces do not.)
This creates a February-sized gap in what is otherwise a relatively consistent conveyor belt of territorial stat holidays. As Easter can fall in either March or April, February is the only month of the year guaranteed not to include a stat holiday in the NWT.
“Everyone should fill out this rather long survey just to answer yes, they want a February holiday,” tweeted Rylund Johnson, the Yellowknife North MLA, who has asked employment minister RJ Simpson about Family Day in the legislature in each of February 2021, February 2022 and February 2023.
This year’s response from Simpson was: “It won’t be happening this year. However, as I stated last year, this is the year that we are going to look at the Employment Standards Act and see what changes need to be made.”
The newly released surveys are a product of that examination of the act.
In a follow-up tweet this week, Johnson acknowledged that “paid sick leave, higher minimum wage, more and varied leave, better vacation days, four-day work weeks, better notice provisions and, well, a complete overhaul of the rights all workers deserve” were also worthy components of the surveys.
Former Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce president Tim Syer responded that the survey should be filled out to provide feedback on “serious issues” like whether reservists deserve job protection for training and deployment, or whether interns deserve full legal protections, not the number of statutory holidays available.
At the moment, there are 11 statutory holidays listed in NWT legislation. Easter Monday and Boxing Day, while given to GNWT staff, are not included in the legislation that more broadly governs territorially regulated workers’ rights – and are therefore at the discretion of employers.