Natalie Gates
The Navigator

Photo by Bill Gates

The British Columbia Nurses’ Union (BCNU) is bargaining with the government to “keep the promise” for safe staffing.

The union is looking to eliminate over-capacity care, as some patients are being cared for in the hallways, and to ensure the government keeps its promise of hiring more nurses. The promise is in the collective agreement between the BCNU and the Health Employers Association of BC (HEABC), said Patti Mcghee, a nurse from Squamish, B.C.

Mcghee said, “In the past, management did not have to replace a nurse when he or she was away on vacation or for health leaves.”  Now it is required to do so. More nurses are now being requested so staff can fill in when a nurse is away.

“A lot of nursing positions are not being filled,” said Mcghee. “Vacant positions are left empty, and some nurses are laid off or displaced.”

“The bargaining also focusses on issues such as the 37.5 hour work week, weakening job security, PharmaCare tie-in (a lack of prescription drug coverage), and the large number of mental health offices being closed down,” Mcghee said.
The discussion over the change from a 36 hour to a 37.5 hour work week is part of the Nurses ‘Bargaining Association (NBA) Provincial Collective Agreement, which is stated on the BCNU website, <>. The idea was brought on in order to achieve a gain in workload, which BCNU agreed on.

The anticipated gains include more regular positions; the ability to replace nurses on vacation, maternity, or sick leave; and to also address the overcapacity care issue.  According to the BCNU site, rotation representatives will be working with employer specialists to create new rotation schedules that still respect nurses’ collective agreement rights.

Mcghee said, “Hundreds of nurses across B.C. are being replaced by care aides in an attempt to achieve cheaper labour. For example, there were 122 nurses, both registered and licensed practical, replaced in Victoria alone.  BCNU worries about the quality of care patients will receive because of this.”

BCNU is now trying to hold the government to its promise of safe staffing and educate nurses on this new agreement. Nurses can file complaints if health authorities violate this deal in any way, such as not covering staff when they are away on leaves or by allowing patients to be cared for in hallways.

On October 21, nurses all over B.C. completed confidential surveys regarding these issues and mailed them off to the BCNU office. This allowed them to state which issues they believe are the most important. The results will then be analyzed by a social research firm.

“BCNU and the NBA will then come together to finalize the safe staffing promise and the results from the bargaining surveys,” Mcghee said. This conference is set to take place on December 3 and 4. After this time, the data from the conference will be collected, analyzed, and reported back to the NBA. The NBA and BCNU will meet with the government to discuss these results in early 2014.

The NBA now includes both Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) and Registered Nurses (RN).