A private-member’s bill by an NDP MLA would restrict the amount of overtime nurses are mandated to work in Manitoba, though the PC government is unlikely to support the legislation proposed by a member of the opposition.
The bill by NDP MLA Uzoma Asagwara, a former psychiatric nurse, seeks to limit use of mandatory overtime and make sure nurses aren’t obligated to take on extra hours in non-urgent circumstances.
"It’s needed because what we’re seeing under this government is nurses being mandated, so forced to work above and beyond their regular shift hours," Asagwara said, emphasizing the province needs to hire more nurses rather than mandate overtime for existing ones.
"It’s really unacceptable. It doesn’t create a nursing environment or a health care environment where nurses can perform at their absolute best," the NDP critic said.
The Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU) has been raising red flags about rising mandatory overtime rates for several months and it was a key campaign issue during the provincial election.
According to the union, St. Boniface Hospital nurses — who voluntarily report incidents of mandatory overtime to their union — reported 328 such incidents in 2017 and 1,886 incidents in 2018. As of Nov. 30, there have been 977 incidents of mandatory overtime in 2019, the MNU said.
MNU President Darlene Jackson said use of mandatory overtime is an issue nurses at all health-care facilities in the province are experiencing since major health-system changes began in Winnipeg in 2017.
"Nurses are exhausted. They are burning out. It is risky because errors increase, injuries increase, burn out increases," Jackson said.
She noted the province is already short-staffed when it comes to nurses and it is hard to recruit new people with untenable workplace conditions.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen didn’t commit to supporting the private member’s bill Wednesday. He claimed the province has hired about 200 new nurses since June and continues to seek more to fill vacancies.
"Nurses are incredibly important in the health-care system. We recognize that the realigning of our hospitals and their functions over the course of the last 18 months has been disrupting for nurses. We are working very hard now to stabilize the system," Friesen said.
The government’s goal is to have nursing vacancies — which currently hover around 15 per cent in Winnipeg hospitals — down to 10 per cent or less.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, December 5, 2019 at 9:10 AM CST: Changes headline