Yellowknife firefighter fights for more overtime pay

But arbitrator sides with government

A grievance around overtime pay by the Northwest Territories government was dismissed recently after the arbitrator determined workers in any industry occasionally have to give up personal time as part of their “normal duties.” 

The Union of Northern Workers filed a policy grievance in September claiming article 23 of the collective agreement required an employee working authorized overtime to be paid a minimum of one hour’s pay. Following one hour of overtime service, that overtime was to be paid for each 15-minute segment of work performed by the employee, it said.

But the employer said the proper interpretation and longstanding practice was to pay for one hour at the overtime rate after the first 15 minutes of overtime work was completed. And after the first hour of overtime, an employee was paid for each 15-minute block.

The collective agreement stated “an employee who is required to work overtime shall be paid overtime compensation for each completed fifteen (15) minutes of overtime worked by him/her, subject to a minimum payment of one (1) hour at the overtime rate.”

In addition, “an employee who is required to work overtime shall be entitled to a minimum of one hour’s pay at the appropriate rate,” said the employer. 

The grievance concerned Garret Churchill, a shift supervisor firefighter at the Yellowknife Airport. He and others in his crew were required to be at the airport hall for all flights arriving and departing. If a flight arrived late, they had to remain on the premises. So if a shift was scheduled to end at 10:30 p.m. and a flight touched down at 10:34 p.m., the firefighter crew had to remain until 10:34 p.m.

Churchill said overtime pay had been approved for him in the past if he was required to work after his scheduled hours of work, even if it was for less than 15 minutes.

That practice changed after an email from the fire chief on July 13, 2015, stated: “Overtime does not begin until 15 minutes after the end of your shift.”

Churchill said it was ludicrous he should have to work up to 14 minutes of overtime without any compensation. But the director of labour relations for the government said overtime was based on a “completed” period of time, meaning an employee “needs to work that extra 15 minutes to get the one-hour benefit.” She cited examples in the HR manual, dating back to August 2006: “Employee works 25 minutes of overtime. He/she gets paid for one hour… Employee works 10 minutes of overtime. He/she does not get paid for overtime.”

And if a worker was asked to work less than 15 minutes of overtime, he could be allowed to take a longer lunch hour another day. 

The union cited an article in the agreement defining overtime as “work performed by an employee in excess of or outside his/her regularly scheduled hours of work.” 

And it said the absence of any payment for the first 15 minutes of overtime violated the Public Service Act which stated a worker was “entitled to be paid, for services rendered, the remuneration applicable to the position.”

But the meaning of “completed" 15 minutes of overtime” was clear and unambiguous, said arbitrator John Moreau .

“Employees in any industry must occasionally give up personal time — in this case, not more than 15 minutes — as part of their ‘normal duties’… in exchange, there are occasions where the employer will show flexibility… by allowing an employee an extra few minutes at lunch for personal reason," said Moreau, who dismissed the grievance.

Reference: The Union of Northern Workers and the Minister of Human Resources, Government of Northwest Territories. John Moreau — arbitrator. Christopher Buchanan for the employer, Rebecca Thompson for the union. April 7, 2016.

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