Pat Rowe is breathing a sigh of relief now that his truck drivers are no longer required to self-isolate when they return to the Northwest Territories.
Until last week, and before the GNWT clarified its rules for essential service providers, Rowe’s drivers had to undergo two weeks of self-isolation each time they came back into the NWT from a trip to Alberta.
His company, P.R. Contracting in Fort Simpson, transports vehicles and performs roadside and “hotshotting” services.
Since late March when Covid-19 arrived in the NWT, Rowe himself has had to self-isolate three times after he returned from delivering loads of vehicles into Alberta.
“I lost four loads. Companies from the south picked them up and I couldn’t deliver them. The companies from the south get paid to take that load but we couldn’t get paid to take it down. If we (drove them down) we had to take two weeks off,” he said.
Rowe also had to charge extra for customers south of the border to pay for the time his drivers were self-isolating.
His drivers work on a call basis and cross the border about once a month, not nearly as often as truckers who go between supermarkets and warehouses.
Still, for a small company like his, a business slowdown or the loss of a load “counts for a fair bit.” He declined to say how much revenue his company lost in connection with drivers having to self-isolate.
His company has since been assured by the GNWT that drivers will receive exemptions when they cross back into the NWT.
Rules unevenly applied
However, not all trucking companies in the NWT have faced the same difficulties as P.R. Contracting.
Moving company Best Movers makes regular trips to Edmonton, the first hub outside the NWT where company crews go before transporting household goods farther.
Owner Cynthia Mufandaedza said since the pandemic began, her driver who goes south hasn’t had to self-isolate when he returns to the NWT.
“He comes back, leaves the truck in our yard, we disinfect it, load the truck, we send him a message and he comes back and drives to Alberta. And he does the same process in Edmonton. He doesn’t mingle with other people (during that time) and he stays at home. (But) he’s not required to not drive for two weeks,” said Mufandaedza, who’s also a Yellowknife city councillor.
Her drivers still must follow some measures while working, such as self-monitoring constantly, maintaining physical distance and isolating in other jurisdictions, and not working if they’re sick.
Likewise, drivers with Westcan Bulk Transport aren’t subject to a 14-day self-isolation when they transport fuel to refineries in Alberta and come back to the NWT.
“They’ve been able to do that because they’re designated essential services. None of my drivers have had to self-isolate for 14 days. Every time they cross that border, there are two scenarios: drivers who come in for less than 36 hours and all they have to do is socially distance or wear a mask. They can cross the border daily,” said a staff member who declined to give his name.
“Then there are those who are here longer than 36 hours. They have to submit a plan to Protect NWT with the dates of their travels. But when they come in there are certain protocols like temperature checks on some days. They can’t be out among the community unless they’re (driving).
“These rules are specific to the drivers. For Joe Public, if I go down to Alberta and come back I have to self-isolate in my home,” he said.
The GNWT acknowledged in an email to NNSL Media that the inconsistent application of the rules for supply chain workers across the NWT were the result of unclear orders.
“This was a matter of sorting out some advice some folks were given by contact centre staff that did not fit with what the intent of the order was based on a re-assessment of the situations brought to us by those in the business,” said Mike Westwick, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services.
“It was never our intent to have resident truckers require self-isolation when they went for a run.
“We take responsibility for these challenges – and we apologize to those who have not had good experiences. We’re taking additional steps to ensure our training is on-point and folks are getting the advice they need to avoid these kinds of situations in the future.”
Back in Fort Simpson, Rowe can look forward to his work schedule with more confidence.
“This is now the first time I’m able to send a driver and he’s getting paid to do what he’s supposed to do,” he said. “We’re very happy (the GNWT) changed things. They realized they had a bit of a hole there and they did patch it.”