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Nurses' union recommends contract to RNs, psychiatric nurses

B.C. nurses will likely ratify a tentative two-year agreement with their employer, according to B.C. Nurses Union (BCNU) Pacific Rim chair Jo Taylor.

"We've addressed the workload issues which was nurses' No. 1 priority when we had meetings," said Taylor. "They said, 'Fix my workload and I don't care if I get a wage increase. Fix my workload so that I can give that better patient care.'

"So the nurses at the end of the day will, I think, ratify this."

The province's 32,000 registered nurses (RN) and registered psychiatric nurses (RPN) will cast their votes on ratification on Oct. 18.

The tentative deal was struck late last week, and according to Finance Minister Mike de Jong, "It provides for modest improvements without adding costs for taxpayers and without sacrificing services to British Columbians."

According to a BCNU news release, the tentative agreement features the addition of an equivalent of 2,125 more registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses by 2016, a wage increase of three per cent that kicks in by April 1 and a requirement for health employers to replace nurses who are off on leave from a scheduled shift, among other things.

Taylor pointed out the requirement for replacement of nurses off on leave is an important part of the agreement because oftentimes, in various institutions throughout the province, licensed practical nurses (LPN) ended up trying to fill the roles of RNs — when RNs have different responsibilities than LPNs.

She also used public health nurses in the Comox Valley as an example of how this change would affect workload.

"Public health nurses were not being replaced for their vacation, so we got language that stated that if a nurse goes off for two weeks or more that they have to be replaced, and so that's a huge impact now on their workload because now it's not going to pile up for when they return," explained Taylor.

She added another part of the tentative agreement that would really affect the Comox Valley and in particular, St. Joseph's General Hospital, is that when there's patient overcapacity problems, like hallway care, employers would be required to call in more nurses to meet patient needs.

"They will also have to call in extra nurses, additional staff, for when there's over capacity issues, so when they've got extra patients on the units or in emergency or in a pod somewhere extra, that they will bring in extra staff," she said. "So that does have significant impacts for St. Joseph's."

According to St. Joseph's General Hospital's human resources co-ordinator Connie Hansen, the hospital currently employs 298 RNs and 18 RPNs.

St. Joseph's president and CEO Jane Murphy said it's difficult for the hospital to comment on the agreement because it is not ratified and she doesn't have all the details, but she noted having more nurses is a good thing.

"Looking at additional nursing FTEs (full-time equivalents), the increase in nursing hours, you know, is likely a positive implication for health care," said Murphy.

"We're waiting to hear that it's ratified and then get all the details and then from there, we'll probably be working out some of those details at the local level.

"And of course we'll work with our union to implement the changes."

Taylor noted a part of the deal many nurses feel is a concession is a change from a 36-hour work week to 37.5 hours. She explained that about 20 years ago B.C. nurses negotiated to be paid for 37.5 hours per week, but actually work only 36 hours.

"A lot of nurses, they look at this as a bit of a concession, but ultimately what it's done is we're now working at the same level as all the other nurses across all of Canada," she said.

The tentative agreement was endorsed by about 300 union executives and stewards from around the province on Tuesday. Taylor added the BCNU council voted in favour of it unanimously.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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