Nurses have reached a tentative contract with the province that is expected to pass a ratification vote Oct. 18. While the contract promises wage increases, workload reductions and the ability to provide better patient care, local nurses won’t say they’re happy about the deal.
“The concession bargaining the government has been doing with all unions is really a bitter pill to swallow. I wouldn’t say we’re happy, but hopefully the outcome will address the needs of all the nurses in B.C.,” said Kath-Ann Terrett, chair of the Coastal Mountain Region of the B.C. Nurses’ Union (BCNU).
“It’s much better to have a negotiated contract than an imposed one, so at least we can mitigate the damage. But it does address patient safety, which is what we’re so excited about because we’re going to have over 2,100 nurses who need to be hired by 2016. And there’s going to be a process to ensure that when nurses call in sick, they’re replaced.”
Until the new contract was drafted, nurses were expected to work short staffed if someone was off sick or if there was an over-capacity issue at the hospital.
“It really stretched nurses thin,” Terrett said.
“So the new language says that if there’s any unfunded beds, like over-capacity patients, they have to staff them. We’ve been fighting for years for this.”
Other changes to the contract include having full-time nurses work a 37.5-hour workweek, rather than a 36-hour workweek, providing back-up for nurses who take time off, and a wage increase of three per cent on April 1, 2013.
Bargaining for the new contract started in April of this year and saw the government and the BCNU meet well over 80 times to hammer out a deal.
“This agreement offers solutions that benefit B.C.’s health system and help ensure future sustainability, while keeping patient’s needs at the forefront,” said Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid in a press release.
“I would like to thank both parties for working collaboratively to reach an agreement that is both good for families and fiscally responsible.”
The two-year agreement will end on April 1, 2014, and Terrett noted that date could signal more action from the nurses.
“We will try this for two years — it’s a two-year contract — and if this doesn’t alleviate some of the workload, then we will definitely go on strike,” she said.