Nurses' union says staff threatened with disciplinary action if they don't work mandatory OT

The union that represents nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador says some of its Corner Brook members have been warned they'll be reported to the provincial regulatory body if they don't accept mandated overtime.

Corner Brook members warned they'll be reported to provincial regulatory body, says union president

A woman in glasses stands outside
Yvette Coffey, the president of the provincial Registered Nurses' Union, says some nurses in Corner Brook have been threatened with reporting to the provincial regulatory body. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The union that represents nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador says some of its members have been warned they could be reported to the provincial regulatory body if they don't accept mandated overtime.

Yvette Coffey, president of the Registered Nurses' Union of Newfoundland and Labrador, said Wednesday that nurses in Corner Brook have been told they could be reported to the College of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador if they don't stay for an overtime shift.

"We've had situations where people have been mandated when they said, 'I don't have child care,'" Coffey said.

"But these nurses are being threatened with being reported to the college if they don't stay."

Mandated overtime was the reason nurses working on Newfoundland's west coast held a rally Tuesday, calling on the provincial government to eliminate the practice in an overburdened and understaffed health-care system that is leaving those working in the field feeling burned out.

If a formal complaint is made to the nurses' college, the college takes over a review. The college has the authority to issue sanctions, including initiating an investigation, alternate dispute resolution, issuing a caution, or restricting or suspending a nurse's licence.

The union said it's not aware of any members yet reprimanded for not complying with mandatory overtime, but added no member has refused the mandate yet.

"This is unacceptable. It's not sustainable," Coffey said.

"Here in Corner Brook alone, in March, $300,000 was spent on mandatory overtime. That's one month alone and it's costing us. It's costing us big time. Last year registered nurses in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador worked 400,000 hours of overtime. That's an increase of 100,000 hours."

Costly nursing agencies

To plug the gaps, the province hires travel nurses from private agencies.

Those contracts have cost millions of dollars but have alleviated some pressure, Coffey said, adding they have also allowed staff to take much time off last summer after two years on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it's not a permanent solution, Coffey said.

A concrete and bricks building bears the words Western Memorial Regional Hospital in blue lettering.
Nurses at Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook have called for an end to mandated overtime. (Geoff Bartlett/CBC)

"The mandatory overtime is continuing. It has not helped," she said.

"It still continues on a daily basis here, and paying money to private agencies only erodes our health-care system and that money should invested back into our health-care system." 

Western Health vice-president Tina Edmonds said mandated overtime actually dropped in September, but rose again in October.

She acknowledged mandated overtime is significantly higher for 2022 than in previous years. 

"While we understand that it is difficult for staff, there are sometimes situations where staff may be mandated to work beyond their regular shift to ensure the safety of our patients," Edmonds said. 

"But once a staff member is mandated, work continues to enable that staff member to go home as soon as possible after we can have the appropriate staffing level in place to safely care for patients and residents."

Edmonds said Western Health worked with its unions and leadership last summer to develop guidelines to support staff members when mandated overtime happens, including ensuring breaks were taken before the mandated shift.

"We're doing a number of things to try to reduce mandatory overtime. Some of them include agency nurses."

Edmonds agreed that agency nurses aren't a long-term solution but said she expects mandatory overtime to decrease through November and Western Health is working to recruit for its vacant positions. There are about 600 vacant nursing jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Newfoundland Morning