BC Nurses gather for rally in Vancouver (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)

New contract would force B.C. health authorities to hire new nurses or pay millions

Contract would hit budgets of hospitals operating without full contingent of nurses

B.C. health officials will have 100 million new reasons to hire more nurses if a new contract is ratified later this month.

Under the terms of the tentative contract, which will be voted on by union members later this month, nurses would get a premium for working in understaffed units.

The union is hoping the premium will spur the hiring of new nurses because, if staffing doesn’t meet baseline levels, the extra pay could leave officials with a combined $100 million gap in their budgets.

Those and other previously unreported details were disclosed in a special issue of the BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) in-house magazine sent out to members. The BCNU declined to comment about the proposed contract, saying they would prefer to communicate directly with members.

The premium could be particularly relevant to nurses at hospitals like Abbotsford Regional Hospital, where Fraser Health spent more than $1 million in the 2017/18 fiscal year to fly in out-of-region nurses to adequately staff the emergency room. Although the hospital neared its full contingent of staffing last March, overtime rates at the hospital remain well above Fraser Health’s target. About five per cent of all hours paid to ARH staff between April and July of last year were overtime – one of the highest rates in the region. There are also 22 current job postings for nursing positions at ARH, with most being for casual, on-call employment.

The proposed contract would mean that, on short-staffed units, each nurse working would receive up to $5/hour extra. (Those working on larger units would receive a $3/hour premium.) The cost would be a significant incentive to hire more staff, the union’s magazine says: “Managers will not have money in their budgets to pay nurses this premium, creating a powerful incentive to staff appropriately in order to avoid shouldering the cost.”

The union magazine says “safe staffing” is the top priority for nurses and that the proposed agreement creates “a new direct patient care staffing assessment process.” The premium, the magazine says, will add a financial incentive to the equation.

The premium won’t kick in right away, though. Health authorities will have until April 1, 2020, to hire enough nurses to meet the baseline staffing requirements.

The contract also includes annual wage increases of two per cent over the next three years.

The nurses’ current contract is set to expire at the end of March.

In addition to nurses working in hospitals, the contract will also cover those employed in public health, home support and mental health facilities.

This story has been updated to reflect that nurses would receive a $5/hour premium on small units and a $3/hour premium on larger units. It originally incorrectly stated nurses would receive an $8/hour premium for larger units and a $3/hour premium on smaller units.

RELATED: ARH ER nurse vacancies filled after more than $1 million spent on out-of-town workers

RELATED: Tentative deal reached for 44,000 nurses across B.C.

LETTER: ER at Abbotsford Regional Hospital bursting at the seams


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tolsen@abbynews.com

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