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Haldimand Norfolk health board grapples with overtime challenge

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The Norfolk and Haldimand board of health is wrestling with the complicated question of how to compensate non-union management staff at the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit for overtime logged during the pandemic.

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As it happened, the match ended in a draw on June 8. The board of health concluded the discussion by requesting additional information before proceeding.

The province has made money available for the province’s 34 health units to compensate managers for the extraordinary hours they have worked during the COVID-19 outbreak.

However – unlike the first round of overtime payouts in 2020 – the government is withholding the money this time until boards of health adopt policies and formulas for paying out management overtime claims.

During the June 8 discussion, Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp, chair of the counties’ board of health, said this is the most difficult issue she has had to contend with since her election in 2018.

Chopp noted that managers in both the private and public sector are expected to log a certain amount of overtime with no additional compensation. She would prefer this apply to the local health unit as well, adding “there are strong arguments for both sides of the coin.”

She said she arrived at her position because the COVID-19 pandemic has caused such great economic upheaval and devastation. Chopp says people who kept their jobs and their income are fortunate and should be grateful that they continue to collect a regular paycheque.

“Some have had to work longer; others have had to sit at home wishing they had a job to go to or a business to run,” Chopp said. “At the end of the day, there is only one taxpayer.”

She said the province is derelict in not dictating a single overtime policy for all health units. In the absence of a uniform policy, Chopp says the government is pitting health units against each other.

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As it stands, the board of health wants to hear more about how the Chatham-Kent Health Unit is handling the situation.

In Chatham-Kent, the first 200 hours of overtime are unpaid while the second 200 hours are paid out at half the hourly managerial rate. The board of health will make a decision after staff plugs Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit wages and overtime claims into the Chatham-Kent formula to see how much cash is at stake.

The board of health is leaning in favour of some form of compensation. Simcoe Coun. Ryan Taylor said health units operate in a competitive environment where talented managers are in high demand. Professional associations, he said, are aware of who is generous and who isn’t, adding the local board of health has to be competitive in this area.

For her part, this was the first debate for Langton Coun. Linda Vandendriessche, who was elected last week in Ward 2 as the replacement for municipal veteran Roger Geysens, who retired last year. As it happened, her first encounter with Norfolk council was a baptism by fire.

“I don’t understand this and I’m not stupid,” Vandendriessche said in frustration near the end of the discussion. “This is not clear by any means. I, as a councillor, would never be able to vote on this because I don’t understand it.

“To me, this is a mixed-up ball of tricks. I will say this – if I work, and I work overtime, I expect to be paid. I’m not looking for a freebie.”

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