Nurses push for new hires at legislature rally

BCNU says "grievalanche" over 10,000 unstaffed shifts has moved Health MInister Terry Lake to action

B.C. Nurses' Union president Gayle Duteil speaks to rally at B.C. legislature Thursday. Their contract expired more than a year ago.

VICTORIA – Members of the B.C. Nurses’ Union brought a sea of pink umbrellas to the B.C. legislature Thursday to call on the B.C. government to honour a provision that requires health authorities to replace absent nurses.

BCNU president Gayle Duteil said 2012 contract provision replacing absent nurses can’t be implemented without more registered nurses hired to provide the relief.

“It’s a sad fact that we don’t have enough nurses to deliver safe care for meeting the staffing mandated by our collective agreement,” Duteil said. “We don’t have enough nurses to backfill vacancies, to backfill absences, and we don’t have enough nurses to meet the daily spikes in acuity.”

The recent settlement of 1,600 union grievances for staffing includes $5 million for specialty nurse training, $1 million to support increased RN staffing and $2 million in “grievance settlement funds” paid to nurses affected by staffing shortages. The staffing fund is available to licensed practical nurses who want to upgrade their training.

Health Minister Terry Lake said the interim agreement is a step towards renewing the latest BCNU contract, which expired in March 2014.

“We worked through a mediator in the last month or so and came to an agreement, so I think we’re in a good place to work towards our new contract,” Lake said.

“We recognize there are some areas like specialist nursing where we do have challenges, and we have committed some of our funding to recruit and train more specialist nurses, and more community nurses as well.”

Nurses cheered as Duteil reminded them that their “grievalanche” had an effect. She said the union documented 10,000 shifts that were not filled during a six-week period at health facilities around the province, and represent only the “tip of the iceberg.”

NDP leader John Horgan addressed the rally, promising that his 2017 election platform will put nurses “front and centre in the health care model.”