New Brunswick's 5,500 unionized nurses have ratified a tentative contract with the government by a 91 per cent margin.

The deal was announced on Friday morning, ending what had become a bitter battle between the New Brunswick Nurses Union and the government that could have led to the province's first nurses' strike.

Details of the new agreement released by the union indicate the terms are retroactive to Jan. 1, 2008, and run to Dec. 31, 2010.

The nurses union said the deal has salary increases of 11.5 per cent over the course of the contract . As of July 1, 2010, there will be a $1.75 per hour shift premium for evenings, $2.25 per hour for nights and $2.50 per hour for weekends.

There will be an additional two per cent on Jan. 1, 2009, and an extra one per cent on Jan. 1, 2010, for senior nurses with 25 or more years of experience.

The standby rates for nurses will also increase to $3 per hour from $2 by January 2010.

There are also improvements to the working conditions, maternity leave benefits and an increase to the employer contribution to the nurses' pension.

A labour stoppage was avoided when both sides agreed to mediated talks over the Christmas holidays with John McEvoy, a University of New Brunswick law professor.

The tentative agreement was hammered out after a marathon negotiating session that ended on Jan. 5.

The sticking point with the provincial government during the negotiations had been compensation for nurses working long overtime shifts and weekends. The nurses union had suggested that these long shifts are causing some nurses to quit or leave the province.