Nurses’ contract deals with workload, training

NANAIMO: Medical and psychiatric nurses benefit from a new provincial contract.

B.C.’s nurses have ratified a new provincial contract with the Health Employers Association of B.C. and the Ministry of Health that will increase wages, improve patient care and provide more jobs and training hours for new graduates.

“This contract has the most language in it than we’ve ever had in regards to dealing with nurse’s workload,” said Jo Taylor, chairwoman of the B.C. Nurses Union’s Pacific Rim branch. “Locally, that’s a big issue when so many of our units are always over capacity and not getting the extra staff for that.”

According to the new contract, health employers will be required to replace nurses who are off sick or on leave for a scheduled shift, barring extenuating circumstances.

“A lot of the units had guidelines where when the first sick call came in, don’t replace the RN, and when the second call came in, go to straight time only,” Taylor said. “Now the employer has to go all the way through the process for every sick call to replace them.”

The contract also adds an equivalent of 2,125 more full-time registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses by 2016.

“That will impact the workload because that means new jobs,” Taylor said.

The contract also provides language around new graduates. In the past, the New Grad program, an option for health authorities, would provide grads with 15 weeks of full-time work to give them the opportunity to gain experience and gel their newly acquired skills. That number has been bumped up to 24-36 weeks.

“We can be hopeful that our depleted casual pools will be able to get those new grads into casual positions,” Taylor said.

Of the 32,000 registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses voting on the contract, 85 per cent voted in favour of the contract. Taylor said there was some concern amongst members regarding changes to the work week, which will increase to 37.5 hours from 36, effective next year. The contract also makes no change to nurse’s benefits.

“Nurses are just saying, ‘I don’t want to have to work any more and give any more to the employer because I don’t have it in me,’ because they’re burnt out, a lot of them,” Taylor said. “We’re hopeful that because we’ve got all this workload language that we’ll be able to change their work environment and it won’t be as bad as they think it will be.”

While some of the contract language will be implemented right away, other parts of the contract, such as the three-per cent hourly wage increase will take affect April 1, 2013.

“There’s a lot of work to be done prior,” Taylor said. “We got some really good stuff out of it, and so we’re really excited to see this contract go forward.”