Contract talks between the union representing nurses in Nova Scotia's largest health district, the Capital District Health Authority, have broken off.
Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia General Employees Union Local 97, blamed government interference and Capital Health's unwillingness to budge on the issue of nurse to patient ratios for the break down.
“The employer came to the table at 4:18 p.m.[Monday] and said they would no longer continue to bargain while the union had nurse to patient ratios on the table,” she said.
“Capital Health and the provincial government are ignoring the nurses’ main bargaining issue. Nurses are adamant about achieving nurse to patient ratios to improve patient safety. Nurses know ratios mean better patient care, faster recoveries and safer hospitals. The McNeil government should be listening to nurses on safety, not ignoring them.”
In the past, the health authority has said the union proposal would mean hiring an additional 800 registered nurses that would cost an extra $60-million per year.
“With a team of providers that includes registered nurses but also includes licensed practical nurses, occupational therapists, physicians and a range of other people — the approach to staffing needs to be one that can be quite flexible and dynamic as well and a mandatory ratio wouldn’t give us that,” said John Gillis, spokesperson for Capital Health.
A conciliator expected to file a report as early as Wednesday — that will begin a 14-day countdown after which nurses will be in a legal strike position.
The union and Capital Health were scheduled to have three days of conciliation but those ended on the first day.
Last month, in a secret ballot that was counted publicly in front of the Halifax Infirmary on Summer Street, nurses voted 90 per cent in favour of a strike.
Nurses were the latest group of health workers represented by the NSGEU to back strike action in their fight for a new contract.
On March 1, striking home care workers were mandated back to work during a rare weekend sitting of the Nova Scotia Legislature.
Jessome said that interference on the part of the provincial government also played a "key role" in the nurses' talks collapsing.
“Capital Health bargained like it expected the McNeil government to bring in essential services legislation in the event it couldn’t reach a deal. That interference meant Capital Health felt no pressure to reach a deal,” she said.
The union said in a news release, another reason for the talks breaking down is Capital Health's refusal to negotiate, what it calls, reasonable emergency service coverage in the event of a strike.
“Nurses are committed to providing emergency services. There will be full coverage in the Emergency Room, ICUs, veterans’ care, hemodialysis and cancer care. Nurses will provide basic coverage in other areas. But Capital Health even refused the Union’s offer of an arbitrator to decide appropriate levels of coverage in the event of not being able to reach an agreement on levels of care in specific areas, something the parties had agreed to in past rounds of negotiations,” said Jessome.