Nfld. & Labrador

Doctors 'exasperated' with lack of negotiations with government

While the Newfoundland and Labrador government has reached a tentative agreement with some of its public workers, the province's doctors are fed up with the lack of movement for talks with them.

'The delay is irresponsible,' writes NLMA president Charlene Fitzgerald in letter to members

Dr. Charlene Fitzgerald is the head of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association. (Jonny Hodder.CBC)

While the Newfoundland and Labrador government has reached a tentative agreement with some of its public workers, the province's doctors are fed up with the lack of movement for talks with them.

It's been more than two years since the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association's last contract expired, and no date has yet been set for talks, the NLMA said in a letter to the premier Wednesday.

"We had a collective agreement that finished in 2017 and we are still waiting to go to the bargaining table to start negotiations on that," NLMA president Charlene Fitzgerald told CBC News.

The letter comes on the heels of the province signing a two-year contract extension with Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees members.

"We congratulate NAPE. But we are exasperated with the irresponsible delay of the provincial government in failing to start negotiations with the NLMA," Fitzgerald said in a letter to NLMA members.

The NLMA points to the number of people in the province without a family physician, saying they are "alarmed at the lack of urgency" shown by government is establishing timely negotiations.

"The delay is irresponsible because significant improvements for patients of the province cannot start until we have an agreement. New models of family practice to reduce the number of unattached patients are not getting discussed," Fitzgerald said.

"Doctors are leaving the province. The government is making Newfoundland and Labrador a less competitive place to practise medicine, while neighbouring provinces are making advances."

Fitzgerald added that Memorial University's 2020 class of doctors will soon be graduating from the faculty of medicine and taking job offers outside the province. 

Health, Finance departments defer comment to each other

On Wednesday, neither the Finance department nor the Health department would initially comment on the issue, with each pointing to the other as the lead on the file. 

When Finance Minister Tom Osborne was asked about it by reporters after delivering a fiscal update Wednesday, he said, "My department is responsible for negotiations with [the Canadian Union of Public Employees], with NAPE, Allied Health, for example, as well as other unions."

"We provide advice to the Department of Health, but again, it's more of an issue to ask the Department of Health," Osborne said.

CBC News had also requested comment from Health Minister John Haggie. A spokesperson for his department initially said the issue was one for the Finance department to weigh in on. 

When CBC advised the spokesperson Osborne had deferred to the Health department, the spokesperson provided this one-line statement late Wednesday afternoon: "The Department of Health and Community Services has been in regular contact with the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, and looks forward to starting contract negotiations in the new year."

Who is leading the negotiations with the province's doctors? Finance Minister Tom Osborne, left, deferred to the Department of Health, but a spokesperson for Minister John Haggie initially said it was a Finance Department issue. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Fitzgerald said she has experienced difficulty in figuring out who the point person, or department, is.

In September the NLMA met with Haggie and the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurse Practitioners Association as part of a committee to develop a strategy about the changing primary health-care system.

Fitzgerald said it was then the NLMA asked Haggie about negotiations.

"His assertion was that it was really the minister of finance that was responsible for negotiating, which has been the history," she said.

"A few weeks later we met with Minister Osborne, of Finance, who said, no, it was Health that was responsible for negotiating."

Fitzgerald said the Department of Health then told the NLMA they aren't ready to negotiate yet.

Tory finance critic Tony Wakeham says he doesn't believe Finance Minister Tom Osborne isn't involved in negotiations with the NLMA. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Tory finance critic Tony Wakeham said he was taken aback when Osborne deferred to the Department of Health on negotiations with the NLMA.

"The minister of finance is not involved in negotiations [with the NLMA]? I don't buy that, I don't buy it at all," Wakeham said.

The NLMA is also taking issue with comments they said Haggie made in the House of Assembly related to the readiness for negotiations. 

The association quoted Haggie as saying, "They need time to get their ducks in a row, we need time to get our ducks in a row for our formal sit-down collective bargaining thing."

The association's response:, "Our ducks have been in a row since June 2018, and we have advised the government as such multiple times."

However, Fitzgerald said the NLMA has been promised that negotiations will start in the new year, but a date has yet to have been set by government. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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