National President David Neufeld has been appointed to a committee of the National Joint Council (NJC) that is responsible for the Isolated Posts and Government Housing Directive. The National Joint Council is comprised of employers and bargaining agents (unions) for the purpose of sharing information, consulting on workplace policies and developing directives for the Public Service.
President Neufeld was honoured to be asked to take on this role by PSAC National President Chris Aylward.
Neufeld’s recent visits to Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik and Fort Good Hope to meet with local members gave him a close-up view of the challenges faced by employees working at isolated outposts in the North.
These mostly RCMP members spoke about how the high cost of living and lack of housing are barriers to recruiting and retaining staff, and as a consequence, workloads are much higher than normal.
Members impressed upon Neufeld how improvements to the Isolated Posts and Government Housing Directive (IPGHD) could improve the lives of Northern employees and make Federal government jobs more enticing. Things like enhanced retirement benefits would make staying at a job until retirement more attractive. Currently, the isolation benefits that balance out the high cost of living end at retirement, meaning that locally-hired employees no longer have a survivable income after retirement. This leads to experienced employees leaving for jobs with better pensions, such as with the territorial government, as they near the end of their careers.
Another issue with the IPGHD is that it seems to have been written for employees willing to travel to isolated posts and not to promote the hiring of staff who already reside there. Along with reduced pension benefits, local hires are not eligible for a relocation allowance should they wish to move on retirement.
Members said the directive does not treat families equally when it comes to the cost of living, fuel and utilities differentials and other allowances. Families with more children do not receive increased allowances or differentials to balance the added costs of raising a family in an isolated post.
President Neufeld also traveled to Yellowknife a number of times in 2022, including a visit to the Yellowknife Parole Office where he met with the four USJE members who service the entire territory. He heard about the challenges of supervising offenders across vast distances, and how those distances contribute to a scarcity of resources. He heard how job flexibility and remote work can resolve some of the challenges of working in isolation.
On a separate visit to Yellowknife, President Neufeld dropped in on Detachment Services members working at G Division, where members explained how the high cost of living has resulted in many vacant positions. They said that the Isolated Post Allowance has failed to keep up with rising inflation and that a lack of access to government housing is contributing to the difficulty filling positions.
A visit to RCMP members in Behchoko, about an hour from Yellowknife, was also on our president’s itinerary last year. Members there expressed a need for DSA training that acknowledges the challenges of working at small, isolated detachments. They said that better internet connectivity would improve access to training and that more staffing was needed to keep up with increasing workloads.
Other Northern visits made by our president in 2022 include to RCMP detachment, Parole Office, and Public Prosecution Service (PPSC) members in Whitehorse, and to PPSC members in Yellowknife. All of these visits informed President Neufeld about the unique challenges faced by our members working in isolated and often harsh conditions.
President Neufeld anticipates sharing the many concerns he heard about during his Northern travels at the next meeting of the IPGH committee, scheduled for the end of January.