Edmonton

Alberta nurses get sick pay reinstated for COVID-19 isolation

Nurses who have to self-isolate due to exposure to COVID-19 will receive special sick leave retroactive to July 6 under an agreement reached with Alberta Health Services this week.

Measure is retroactive to July 6, 2020

UNA members have been on the front-lines of the fight against COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic last year. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Nurses who have to self-isolate due to exposure to COVID-19 will receive special sick leave retroactive to July 6 under an agreement reached with Alberta Health Services this week. 

The sick pay applies to symptomatic employees with or without a confirmed workplace exposure, and asymptomatic employees who were forced to quarantine due to exposure. The sick pay provisions do not apply to anyone forced to quarantine due to international travel.

The measure is retroactive to July 6, 2020, the day Alberta Health Services ended the special code nurses could use for COVID-related sick leave. The code allowed them to take time without using up their regular sick days. Under the agreement, nurses forced into quarantine since July 6 can qualify for payments or reinstatement of their regular sick days. 

In addition to paid sick leave, AHS is offering one day of paid leave and leave without pay to nurses who need to care for sick family members or children who are at home due to a school or daycare closure. 

"It's a little bit of good news in what has often been, for many months, a bad news world," said United Nurses of Alberta president Heather Smith.  "We'll at this point take whatever good news we can get."

Contract negotiations on hold

The memorandum of understanding between the UNA and AHS, Covenant Health, Lamont Health Care Centre and the Bethany Group in Camrose took effect on Monday and continues until March 31. 

Negotiations on a new collective agreement between the UNA and AHS will not resume until after that date. AHS has committed to no layoffs during that two-and-a-half month period.

A spokesman with the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents paramedics and EMTs, said AHS plans to offer similar benefits to its members but wouldn't provide additional information. 

Smith said the government should extend the same sick leave provisions to all employees working on the front-lines of COVID-19. 

"I can't see any reason why Alberta Health Services would hesitate to agree to the same kind of things for those other unions," she said. 

In November, the UNA made sick pay for members forced to self-isolate one of the conditions for agreeing to a request by Finance Minister Travis Toews to delay negotiations until March 31, 2021. Alberta Health Services rejected the offer 10 days later. 

On Monday, the UNA and Toews announced an agreement had been reached.

"This decision is in the best interest of all Albertans and the health-care system as we strive to reduce the rate of transmission and implement the COVID-19 vaccination program," Toews said in a written statement. 

The agreement also allows employees who get COVID-19 vaccinations outside of regular work hours to claim one hour of pay.

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