11 Nunavut nurses made more than $100K each in overtime alone in 2016-17
Government's overtime expenses rose to $28M, up from $26M in previous year
The Nunavut government paid out more than $28 million in overtime in 2016-2017, with 13 employees working more than $100,000 worth of extra hours.
The Department of Health billed by far the most overtime of any department, and had the most employees working extra hours, tallying $13,387,404.14 among 1,514 people.
Eleven of them earned more than $100,000 in overtime pay.
The details were tabled in Nunavut's legislature as part of a written response to Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes who, perhaps ironically, was the minister of Health at the time.
The new figure is a jump from the $26 million the government spent in 2015-2016, which at the time former Finance Minister Keith Peterson called "greatly [concerning]."
But money aside, both the government and MLAs say the figure speaks to the ongoing capacity issues within the government.
"When somebody is claiming over $100,000 in overtime in a year, what kind of stress is that putting on them? That's higher than most base salaries," Hickes said, adding he wasn't surprised by the $28 million figure.
"The number that concerned me is the number of people with the high level of overtime. I think that seriously needs to be examined on what's leading to that. Because to me, that's putting an unfair burden on the employee."
According to the government's latest workforce numbers as of March 31, the Nunavut government is operating at a 27 per cent vacancy rate. The Department of Health has a 42 per cent vacancy rate.
The Qulliq Energy Corporation billed the most overtime per employee, with 183 people earning an average of $32,217.06 each. Two of them earned more than $100,000 in overtime pay.
According to the Department of Finance, which manages the government's human resources, those making more than $100,000 annually in overtime are primarily supervisors of health programs at the community level — formerly called nurses in charge.
The two QEC workers who earned more than $100,000 in overtime were frontline staff.
While Hickes stressed the importance of filling vacancies as a way to curb overtime costs, he said the dollar numbers can't be ignored.
"The money is important, because obviously the more money we have, the more services we can provide. But when you're talking $28 million going through the public service in overtime, that's a substantial amount," he said.
"That's a power plant or a health centre built somewhere."
The $28 million in overtime represents 4.9 per cent of the government's projected salaries in 2016-2017.
Current Health Minister Pat Angnakak, who as an MLA was critical of the overtime costs the last time the numbers were brought up in the legislature, also pointed to the need to address capacity issues.
"We're all concerned when we see numbers like that," Angnakak said. "I don't think there's one minister who wants to see big numbers like that. But I think in some circumstances, though we are concerned, it's very hard to actually really do a lot about them."
Regarding the number of nurses making in excess of $100,000 of overtime, Angnakak said nurses are working too many hours.
"It says to me we don't have enough nurses. I think it's no secret that one of the things nurses face when you work in Nunavut, is burnout. And it's really unfortunate," she said.
"If we can just get more nurses to come to Nunavut and stay here. We don't have a problem recruiting. We have a problem retaining."
Both Hickes and Angnakak said they hope the impending quality of care review can come up with solutions to ease the extra workload on nurses by having "flex hours." At its core, it's revamping staffing levels to have more nurses on a shift during peak hours.
Angnakak said there's also a pilot program in place in the Kitikmeot region, in which the department has hired one person specifically for administration work, which often falls on nurses to do.