Nfld. & Labrador

Bring more sweetener to the bargaining table: nurses

The union president representing Newfoundland and Labrador's nurses says an opening contract offer from the provincial government is nothing to celebrate.

The union president representing Newfoundland and Labrador's nurses says an opening contract offer from the provincial government is nothing to celebrate.

"Our initial reaction to their opening package was a little bit of disappointment," Debbie Forward, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses' Union, said Thursday, before heading into the first day of face-to-face bargaining with government negotiators.

Forward would not comment on specifics, but said her union will be holding the government to promises that Premier Danny Williams made leading up to October's general election, that public-sector workers would be rewarded for enduring years of restraint.

"It's about making sure that we're competitive in this province, to make sure we keep nurses," said Forward.

"We're looking forward to bringing those arguments to the employer team, and say, 'Look, this is where we are compared to the rest of the country,' and when we're competing with the rest of the country for nurses we can't continue to be, for example, the lowest-paid for nurses in this country."

In October 2006, the nurses' union made a three-year agreement — retroactive to July 1, 2005  that it admitted was a tough pill to swallow.

The current contract had a wage freeze for the first year, and pay raises of three per cent for each of the second and third years.

Last year, the union lobbied to have its contract reopened, arguing that the province's nursing shortage had become particularly acute, and that many nurses were working numerous double-shifts or extended hours, putting their own health at risk.

Forward said while higher pay will be a key goal, the union also wants a contract that will mean better access to obtaining time off and less forced overtime. Nurses in towns such as Clarenville have held demonstrations to bring attention to the problems they've had getting annual leave requests approved.

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