British Columbia nurses and health employers signed a five-year agreement, which deals with staff shortages and improve health care for patients, on May 11.
The contract will see B.C. nurses, who voted 85 per cent in favour of the deal, receive a 5.5 per cent wage increase over the five-year term.
There is potential increases if the B.C. economy surpasses annual forecasts.
“The ratification of this agreement is a great example of what can be achieved when we work co-operatively with our health care partners,” Health Minister Terry Lake says.
“We look forward to moving ahead in a spirit of collaboration with B.C.’s nurses as we continue to transform and improve the delivery of health services – for the benefit of patients and staff.”
B.C. Nurses’ Union (BCNU) president Gayle Duteil says the new deal gives nurses a greater say in shaping health-care policy, and represents improved safety and violence prevention.
Staffing levels have been the key issue in the lengthy negotiations, which produced an interim deal in May 2015 to settle 1,600 union grievances filed over staff vacancies.
That included $5 million for specialty training and a $2 million “grievance settlement fund” to pay bonuses to nurses who worked short-handed.
Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says it’s great news that the agreement has been ratified.
“I believe it is a fair agreement for both the nurses, employer and taxpayers.
Nurses are hard-working, dedicated men and women who give all of us when needed the care and comfort to get us through sickness and many times the loss of a loved one.
“The nurses are very special people.”
Further to the agreement, the Ministry of Health has committed to enhancing nurse education, workplace safety and rural recruitment and retention of nurses to support broader health-system improvements.
Lake says some of the 1,500 new nurse positions in the agreement are filled by casual employees moving to full-time, and others are new graduates.
Shortages remain in specialty areas such as operating rooms, where an additional $5 million is included for about 850 nurses to take specialty training.
The agreement includes $2 million for rural and remote areas that the BCNU says could be used for housing assistance or tuition relief to make positions more attractive.
A joint ministry-health authority-Nurses’ Bargaining Association (NBA) review of rural and remote nursing issues will work to identify immediate and pressing nurse recruitment and retention issues in Northern Health, Interior Health, Island Health and Vancouver Coastal Health.
The Ministry of Health will provide $2 million to implement recommendations from the review.
Workplace violence has been a huge issue for the BCNU.
The ministry and the NBA will each provide $2 million – for a total of $4 million – toward additional violence prevention actions at priority sites throughout B.C.
The ministry is also developing a provincial violence prevention framework that will bring consistent and effective violence prevention strategies to all health care work sites.
The contract covers 45,000 registered, psychiatric and licensed practical nurses represented by the BCNU, the Health Sciences Association and the Hospital Employees’ Union.
With files from Tom Fletcher.