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Nurses consider wage freeze

St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud is pleased that the government has tentatively reached a deal with the nurses union, which includes a wage freeze in exchange for job stability.

St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud is pleased that the government has tentatively reached a deal with the nurses union, which includes a wage freeze in exchange for job stability.

The group representing Alberta nurses in bargaining with the government has recommended a wage freeze until March 2019 in exchange for a promise of no layoffs.

The negotiating committee for the United Nurses of Alberta has recommended ratifying the recommendations and agreed to changes presented by a mediator. They have recommended forming a new collective bargaining agreement with the province.

St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud said that she was very happy a deal has been reached with the union.

“These are essential, essential services. I am thrilled we are working with these large unions and not against them,” Renaud said.

If ratified, the agreement would see a two-year wage freeze starting from last year on April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2019. In the third year the nurses would go back to the table for a wage renegotiation and the talks would start on Feb. 15, 2019.

David Harrigan, director of labour relations at the United Nurses of Alberta and chief negotiator in the deal, said that in the 28 years he has been negotiating with the province the nurses have never had a similar provision in their contract.

“We think it is extremely important that there is that assurance that there isn’t going to be any involuntary layoffs for this type of agreement,” Harrigan said.

Harrigan said that in the past when the province has had tough economic times the government has laid off 10 per cent of nursing staff. He said that this provision assures no nurses will lose their jobs.

Although the negotiating team was not enthusiastic to take a wage freeze, they realize the province is not in a good economic position to offer them a raise.

Renaud said that she is happy to see the negotiators “working together and addressing the economic reality in Alberta.”

Harrigan said that the government maintained that it could not afford to give wage increases during the negotiations due to the large deficit the province is facing.

Harrigan said that he feels like this deal is a win for both sides, but there will be more pressure on the government to give nurses an increase during the next round of negotiations.

The agreement also extends parental leave from 12 months to 18 months. This includes maternity and paternity leave along with adoption. The employees will still be allotted the same amount of money, but will be able to take that payout over a longer time frame.

The wage freeze follows an agreement the province struck with the teachers that also saw them go two years without an increase. Although they didn’t negotiate a wage increase, the teachers included a “me too” clause in the contract, which means that if the government negotiates a wage increase with another union, the teachers would receive the same wage increase.

In November, Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci said that he would like to see wage freezes struck with all other unions the province was negotiating with including the nurses and Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

The United Nurses represent more than 30,000 registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses and allied health workers.

The recommendations will be presented to United Nurses Associations locals on Jan. 25 in Calgary and is slated to be formally ratified on Feb. 15.

To see the full list of changes visit the United Nurses of Alberta website.

Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Newspapers based in St. Albert, Alta.
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