Doctors have reached a tentative contract agreement with Newfoundland and Labrador's government after provincial officials increased the amount of money offered by 26 per cent.

Physicians would give up their right to strike and agree to binding arbitration for future contracts. 


NLMA president Dr. Patrick O'Shea, speaking with reporters in St. John's on Thursday. ((CBC))

"One thing we got was 100 per cent Atlantic parity — not the 98 per cent that the government was offering all along," said Dr. Patrick O'Shea, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association.

He clarified that fee-for-service and salaried general practitioners will receive Atlantic parity, and salaried specialists will receive the same pay as oncologists and pathologists.

"All of the salaried specialists in the province are now at the same base level as their pathology and oncology colleagues. So that was another major thing that we wanted."

The new deal increases what doctors are paid by a total of $87.7 million, up from a previous offer of about $81 million more.

There is also $12-million in one-time retention bonuses, making it a $100-million deal that offers doctors about $20-million more than had originally been offered.

In November, 14 specialists resigned to protest what the provincial government was offering doctors. The specialists said they wanted equal pay for equal work.

They said that when former premier Danny Williams cut a deal to increase the pay of some specialists, including pathologists and oncologists, the province created a two-tier pay system.

O' Shea said that has changed.

"I'm happy to inform you that 13 of 14 specialists who had resigned have rescinded those resignations, and that will take effect immediately," he said.


Premier Kathy Dunderdale's first act after replacing the outgoing Danny Williams two weeks ago was to order her ministers to get a deal with the doctors. ((CBC))

The one who is leaving is a psychiatrist in Carbonear, a town of about 4,700 on the Avalon Peninsula, who accepted a two-year contract with the military but who will return to Newfoundland and Labrador after that, said O'Shea.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale's first act after replacing the retiring Williams two weeks ago was to order her ministers to get a deal with the doctors.

Doctors began negotiating this deal with government almost two years ago.

"The big piece for me was getting together and setting aside a lot of the noise that had developed around this issue, and to be able to really hear from one another what was important, and what principles we needed to protect, and where could we find the common ground," Dunderdale said. "And we were able to do that." 

Government backs binding arbitration

As well, the government "has committed to designing legislation calling physicians essential workers and for doing binding arbitration for any future deal," said O'Shea.

"So we will never have to face the prospect of job action or job withdrawal, and hopefully we will never have to face such a prolonged negotiation session again. We've given up the right to strike, but we are happy to give that up for binding arbitration."

Finance Minister Tom Marshall said binding arbitration means one group won't be allowed to "hijack" negotiations.

The two sides' goal for binding arbitration is to have a framework in place by the time this contract expires in 2013.

On Wednesday, the NLMA announced that physicians voted to reject an older contract offer by a majority of 86 per cent. Later that afternoon, Marshall said a new deal will be signed soon.

The medical association's membership has not voted on the tentative deal, but the NLMA's executive board is unanimously recommending the deal to its membership.

O'Shea said the association will present the deal to members on Dec. 21, and he would be shocked if it isn't accepted.

"Hopefully we will have this ratified very shortly."