Nurses union offers temporary solution to overtime dispute with health authority
Union suggests returning to the older interpretation of overtime contract language until issue resolved
An end may be in sight for a weeks-long dispute over overtime payments to Nova Scotia nurses.
The disagreement over how to interpret contract language has forced some nurses to work longer hours or look after more patients because their colleagues have refused to work extra shifts.
Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey said Monday outside an annual meeting of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union that he is considering an "interesting" temporary solution proposed by the group's president, Janet Hazelton.
"A couple of legal questions around it to make sure it works the way that certainly the union thinks it would and line up, and if that does line up then we'd certainly be looking to move forward, and encourage the employer to move forward with it," said Delorey.
Hazelton's proposal would see the Nova Scotia Health Authority return to a decades-old interpretation of overtime contract language while the disagreement makes its way through a grievance process.
The dispute involves the health authority's determination that nurses scheduled to work 75 hours during a two-week period, but who have had one or more absences due to such things as illness or vacation, should no longer get overtime pay for extra shifts worked during that period.
Nurses continue to be paid overtime for working beyond their scheduled shift.
Both the nurses union and the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union have opposed the reinterpretation of the contract.
Hazelton said the new interpretation of overtime language came into force in February and has infuriated her members who are refusing extra shifts in protest.
She warned a continuation of that protest would force many more emergency room closures this summer.
"Because of this change many of our nurses are not picking up extra shifts so the staffing has become almost impossible," said Hazelton. "And this is now in April. By the time July, in August, if this practice continues I fear that we won't be able to staff our facilities."
According to Hazelton, the proposed temporary solution would allow the grievance process to proceed as planned but the old interpretation of the rules would be reinstated.
Delorey called the proposal "interesting" and said if it could go ahead without affecting the grievance process, as the union claims, he'd be ready to endorse it, although it would be a health authority decision.
Hazelton said without a temporary solution, she expected more emergency room closures and other disruptions during the summer months when hospitals traditionally scale back to allow staff to take holidays.
Hazelton made her proposal to the health authority on Thursday.
Delorey found out about it on Friday and Hazelton said she spoke to Premier Stephen McNeil about it on Saturday.
Health ministers traditionally attend the annual meetings of the nurses union to address delegates. This was Delorey's second time before the group.