Nfld. & Labrador

Government misses bargaining deadline as nurses escape tough contract talks

Registered nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador have evaded a difficult round of contract negotiations, simply because the government acknowledges it missed a deadline to start bargaining.
Debbie Forward, president of the Registered Nurses' Union of Newfoundland and Labrador, speaks to reporters in St. John's Monday. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Registered nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador have evaded a difficult round of contract negotiations, simply because the Newfoundland and Labrador government acknowledges it missed an important deadline to start bargaining. 

Finance Minister Cathy Bennett told reporters Monday afternoon that her department made "a mistake," and missed this year's deadline to call the Registered Nurses Union to the bargaining table.

"The reality is that mistakes happen, and as minister my responsibility is to make sure that we move forward and we do what we need to do," Bennett told reporters.

According to Registered Nurses' Union president Debbie Forward, the current benefit and salary agreement between the nurses and the government will continue for a year.

The collective agreement is set to expire on June 30, but according to the terms of the contract, remains in effect unless one of the sides gives at least 30 days notice that it wants to go back to the bargaining table. 

Forward said that neither side gave notice, though there was "no discussion" between the two about that decision.

Difficult negotiations

Public sector unions across the province, including the NLTA and NAPE, are bracing for a difficult round of contract negotiations this year.

The spring provincial budget contained across-the-board tax hikes, a $1.83-billion deficit, and the promise of more cuts to come. The province has even hired a $350-an-hour law firm to help in the negotiating process.

Forward said the union felt that opting for a contract extension — and opting out of the negotiating process for a year — was the best strategy.

"Our board considered the current fiscal environment and the priorities of our members and decided that extending our contract was our best option at this time," she said.

"[It ensures we] provide some level of stability for our patients and the health care system in very uncertain times."

The Allied Health Professionals contract has also been extended by a year, Forward said.

Invitation stands

Cathy Bennett told reporters Monday afternoon that she's hoping the nurses' union returns to the bargaining table, despite government's mistake. (CBC)

Bennett said that she had full intention of filing the required notice, and would investigate what went wrong in her department.

However, Bennett told reporters Monday that she wanted the Registered Nurses Union to begin bargaining despite the government's mistake.

"We've been clear, for the last several months, that it was our intention to talk to all of the unions together," she said.

"We're not going to allow the technical nature of what's happening to distract from the important dialogue that we have to have with all of our public sector employees." 

Bennett said she would call Forward herself on Monday afternoon, but union spokesperson Kristian Styles said late Monday afternoon that the nurses did not intend to enter negotiations.

With files from Terry Roberts

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