B.C. Nurses' Union president Gayle Duteil speaks to a rally at the B.C. legislature

B.C. nurses ratify five-year contract

B.C. Nurses' Union president Gayle Duteil says deal gives nurses more say in health policy, staffing levels

B.C. nurses have voted 85 per cent to accept a contract with the provincial government that deals with staff shortages.

B.C. Nurses’ Union president Gayle Duteil said Wednesday 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.

Health Minister Terry Lake said 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.

Lake said the use of “tele-health” links has resulted in a significant reduction in trips to major health care centres to see specialists. And in April, the government announced expansion of its community paramedic program to 73 communities, replacing on-call paramedics with full-time jobs that include home visits and nursing home support.

Nurses are the last major provincial employee group to settle under the B.C. government’s “economic stability mandate,” which provides a share of economic growth that exceeds independent forecasts. The nurses’ deal also includes a 5.5 per cent wage increase over five years, similar to other public sector wage settlements.

The contract covers 45,000 registered, psychiatric and licensed practical nurses represented by the BCNU, the Health Sciences Association and the Hospital Employees’ Union.