Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Iqaluit June 20, 2017 - 4:16 pm

Volunteer instructors out of jobs over spat with Iqaluit Aquatic Centre

“We were never given an opportunity to explain ourselves"

STEVE DUCHARME
Iqaluit's new Aquatic Centre, which opened Jan. 26, hits its first staffing snag this week after losing its volunteer fitness instructors. (FILE PHOTO)
Iqaluit's new Aquatic Centre, which opened Jan. 26, hits its first staffing snag this week after losing its volunteer fitness instructors. (FILE PHOTO)
A June 20 entry posted by Iqaluit's volunteer fitness instructors on the Iqaluit Public Service Announcements Facebook page.
A June 20 entry posted by Iqaluit's volunteer fitness instructors on the Iqaluit Public Service Announcements Facebook page.

At least a dozen volunteer fitness instructors at Iqaluit’s Aquatic Centre are out after receiving notice that the City of Iqaluit “accepted their resignation” over a series of concerns the instructors raised about the facility’s operations, safety and maintenance.

Nunatsiaq News has confirmed from multiple sources that Iqaluit’s recreation director, Amy Elgersma, notified volunteer instructors at the facility by email—shortly after 3 p.m., June 19—that they had 24 hours to return their volunteer uniforms.

“Your resignation has been accepted and is effective immediately,” Elgersma wrote in that email, about an hour before the Aquatic Centre’s most popular class, called “Get Ripped,” was scheduled to start.

Elgersma’s email was in response to a letter raising several problems with current operations at the Aquatic Centre—along with significant safety issues—and signed collectively by 12 volunteer instructors, many of whom used to teach classes at Atii Fitness before that gym was absorbed into the city’s new multi-use facility.

“[If] the City wishes to maintain the current terms of the volunteer agreement with the instructors… each of us would like to advise that we will no longer be volunteering under that agreement as of June 30 which is the last day of the current schedule,” the May 29 letter from instructors read, a copy of which was obtained by Nunatsiaq News.

That letter went unanswered, forcing a second letter from the volunteer group to be sent after the June 15 deadline for a response had passed.

Elgersma requested additional time in a short response dated June 16, adding that volunteers could be consulted individually. But a few days later, she wrote back that she accepted the group’s resignation.

Svetlana Tumilty, a volunteer instructor of yoga and aquafit sessions, who signed the letter, told Nunatsiaq News that the point was to “start a dialogue” with the city over their concerns.

“We were never given an opportunity to explain ourselves,” Tumilty said, adding that she hoped the city could have gotten back to the group to “sort it all out.”

“[There was] tears, anger, nobody slept the night because we love teaching, we want to teach. We’d love to volunteer more but we think it should be done on a different model.”

The city currently charges Aquatic Centre users monthly, yearly and daily drop-in fees to use the facility. Some fitness classes offered are included in those fees, but for others, participants are required to pay extra.

Under their current agreement, volunteer instructors are expected to teach about 60 per cent in the free classes and 40 per cent in the paid classes.

The group said in its original letter to the city that this ratio forced on volunteer instructors “significantly impedes community access to fitness programming.”

In other words, they think more of the classes which they volunteer to teach should be free to Iqalungmiut.

“We do not believe that the policy of paid programming provided by volunteer instructors is an effective means to recover costs—a membership at the gym is a significant cost,” the letter said.

The letter also addressed concerns with cleanliness in the Aquatic Centre’s classroom, adjacent to the fitness room, as well as an absence of an emergency first aid kit in the room.

“There has been a glycol leak dripping in the room since the facility opened,” the letter also said.

“One of the instructors came in to teach to find blood on the floor of the classroom… the cleaning wipes and cleaning supplies are often empty.”

The volunteers also requested that the city provide a stock of food and electrolytes in case any participant has a blood-sugar episode during a class, which has already happened at least once, the letter said.

“This has happened since the facility opened and it was only because the instructors had these items on hand that we were able to assist the participant in distress,” the volunteers wrote.

“Of even more concern is that there is no emergency alarm in the classroom.”

In a statement provided to Nunatsiaq News by the city’s communications officer, Andrea Spitzer, the City of Iqaluit said it “accepted the resignations tendered by the volunteers” and thanked them for their service.

“The City is always open and receptive to constructive feedback,” the statement said, adding that the City will not discuss personal issues it deems to be considered confidential.

“While the City adjusts and reviews its staffing requirements, alternate methods of program delivery are being utilized.”

The city is requesting that fitness class participants contact the Aquatic Centre’s guest services to inquire about any classes they think might be affected.

The Aquatic Centre’s current roster of paid staff will take over fitness classes, Spitzer said.

“The majority of fitness classes will continue, especially those with the highest participant numbers.”

Tumilty said the volunteers only wanted “a dialogue” for their concerns, and not to be dismissed.

“We were asking to be heard as a group, we did not feel it would be beneficial to any side if we would be invited to meetings on an individual basis,” she said, as was proposed by the city.

“We were never told ‘I hear you, come let’s talk about it and make things better.”

Tumilty confirmed to Nunatsiaq News that copies of the correspondences between the volunteers and the city’s recreation department have been forwarded to Iqaluit mayor Madeleine Redfern and city councillors.

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