This is tough for the Canadian nurses. The union is not able to publicly sanction going against the law. If this continues on much longer, I see an even deeper exodus of Canadian nurses to the U.S. (Lousy for Canadians, but US nurses would welcome them with open arms.)
B.C. nurses bow to new labour law
Union ends overtime ban: 'We don't characterize it as defeat ... The employer still must negotiate'
Ian Bailey, with files from Joan Bryden, Southam News
National Post, with files from Southam News
VANCOUVER - The union representing British Columbia nurses has called off a ban on working overtime and suggested that individual members should decide whether to put in extra hours required to provide effective health care.
The British Columbia Nurses Union said yesterday it would support any nurses who face sanctions from employers for refusing overtime.
The declaration came after the B.C. Liberal government passed legislation to end an overtime ban that has forced the cancellation of more than 5,000 operations since April, causing widespread chaos in the province's health care system.
"We don't characterize it as defeat," said Debra McPherson, the president of the union. "We still do not have a collective agreement. The employer still must negotiate."
Nurses have been using the overtime ban as a tactic to bolster their contract demands for a top hourly wage of $38. They are being offered $32.42.
The Liberal bill also shuts down a strike by 14,000 lab technicians, therapists and other members of the Health Sciences Association.
It came into effect as Roy Romanow began public hearings into the future of Canada's health care system yesterday, and as about 9,000 nurses and health care workers in Nova Scotia continued their battle against a proposed procincial law that would take away their right to strike.
Mr. Romanow expressed hope that the twin crises would underline the need for some long-term reforms to the health system.
"I think maybe all of this points ... to the fact that we have a very serious situation on our hands and short-term answers are just that," the former Saskatchewan premier told reporters.
"We've got to come up with some long-term solutions. And I'm hoping that everybody, the public and premiers, are now of the mood to give and take and collaborate to find those long-term solutions."
B.C.'s health care workers launched a strike on Monday that added to the problems in B.C. hospitals. However, late yesterday, association officials said their members would return to work today.
"We are willing to give Gordon Campbell [the Premier] a chance to prove himself and deliver on the promises he made to both the people of British Columbia and the health professionals that work in the health care system," said Cindy Stewart, the president of the association.
The head of the nurses union said her members had no option but to obey the law.
"The decision was taken in respect of the rule of law," said Ms. McPherson. "That decision was not difficult. Nurses believe in the law."
But she predicted things will get much worse as the predictability of a co-ordinated overtime campaign fractures into a series of individual choices by far-flung members. "It creates a state of turmoil," she said.
Both the nurses and association have been ordered back to the bargaining table by the weekend.
Association negotiators are seeking a 27% wage increase over two years. They have been offered 6% over three years.
John Hamm, the Nova Scotia Premier and a family physician, is holding round-the-clock sessions at the legislature to pass Bill 68, which also gives the provincial Cabinet the ability to impose settlements rather than go to binding arbitration.
The turmoil in B.C.'s health care system is providing an early test for the Liberals, who won 77 of 79 seats in a provincial election last month that ended 10 years of NDP government in British Columbia.
Joy MacPhail, the NDP leader and one of only two New Democrats in the legislature, rejected suggestions that the Liberals could be excused because the NDP has been running the system until now.
"The public voted for the new era of the Liberals," she said. "They rejected us and I accept that. But if this is the new era, [it] doesn't bode well for fixing the health care system."
Ms. MacPhail said the move by the new government could also deter nurses from coming to work in British Columbia.
"Yesterday, health care professionals from across North America were given a very strong message: 'Don't come to B.C. If you come to B.C., you're going to be shackled to the bedside without any right to have input into your wages or working conditions.' It certainly isn't a siren call to health care professions to come here."
The province is grappling with a shortage of nurses, prompted in part by the exodus of professional nurses to the United States.
In a brief, health-focused Throne Speech read just hours before the Liberals passed their legislation, the labour disputes were blamed for bringing the "health care system to a point of crisis."
The speech said the government is planning legislation to restore health services.
"In doing so, it will provide time for the health unions and employers to explore solutions to the most pressing issues that are preventing agreement," the speech said.
Gary Moser, spokesman for the Health Employers Association, was hoping for a quick return to bargaining table. "You need to approach every corner the road takes with optimism. We'll do that and hope for progress. There have been strong positions taken by both sides. We've said we don't have any more [money]. They have said you need a lot more money. It will require mutual co-operation to find a solution."