Manitoba’s acting health minister says the government has made "significant long-term monetary offers" to the province’s nurses.
Kelvin Goertzen made the comments to reporters, after answering questions about the nurses’ contract in the legislature Monday.
Some 12,000 members of the Manitoba Nurses Union have been without a collective agreement for more than four years.
Negotiations have been underway "in earnest" since last fall, said Goertzen, the deputy premier, filling in for Health Minister Heather Stefanson, who is on medical leave.
"I understand... significant long-term competitive monetary offers (have been) made. And I think that that speaks well of the fact that we understand and value the work that nurses are doing, and we hope that there will be an agreement reached," Goertzen said.
Asked about a potential strike, Goertzen said the public should take comfort there are essential services agreements in place that would be activated in the event of any job action. He said the agreements ensure the impact of a strike on COVID-19 would be "minimal."
Darlene Jackson, president of the MNU, said nurses are considering taking a strike vote to back contract demands.
She said the nurses have just completed negotiating essential service agreements with employers.
"We’ve also agreed that no function that is related to COVID will (see a decrease) in service. We would never even consider decreasing service in the ICUs," Jackson said.
The MNU president described the bargaining process so far as "absolutely frustrating and painstakingly slow."
As for Goertzen’s assurance about "significant long-term monetary offers," Jackson said: "I can’t go into details but I can tell you we’ve received no satisfactory offers that we can… take to our members. That just hasn’t happened yet."
Jackson said the union has asked for arbitration — with the proviso the option not be exercised until Sept. 1 — but that suggestion was met with a "flat no."
Goertzen said negotiations with nurses were only able to begin in 2020 because of the "redistribution" of health-care bargaining units.
After coming to power in 2016, the Progressive Conservatives said there were too many health bargaining units and mandated the number be reduced. This resulted in runoff votes between unions for the right to represent health-care workers.
The MNU was largely unaffected by the rationalization of bargaining units.
Goertzen also indicated incentives are being offered at the bargaining table for nurses impacted by the pandemic, such as emergency and ICU nurses.
In December, the government announced nurses would receive a $5-$6 per hour pay bump for tending to COVID-19 patients or adapting to new roles and workplaces as the province grappled with the pandemic.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.