Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sask nurses want 27% raise

The three year contract with Saskatchewan's nurses expired March 31. Signing the next one is becoming a mounting, yet predictable, public confrontation. Nurses have already floated May 7 as a possible strike date. Randy Burton of the Star Phoenix explains the case.

What the nurses want is both simple and complicated. Easy to understand is a big pay hike, more holidays and six-weeks notice for any change to the work schedule. Complicated is their idea that the number of nurses available should dictate bed numbers, thereby regulating access to the health-care system.

SUN says the idea they should give up anything to achieve all of this would constitute "the most regressive employer proposal in its history."

That's quite a claim even by SUN's standards, a group not known for understatement. You would be hard-pressed to find another group in society who could describe a 10 per cent increase over two years as an attack on working people, but then the nurses have always operated by different rules.

These numbers have been underreported but what the nurses are actually asking for is a 17.3 per cent increase in the first year and five per cent in each of two succeeding years.

For nurse practitioners with advanced training, it is asking for a 65 per cent increase in the first year. That would take them from $39.15 an hour to $64.59 an hour. Among other things, the union also wants triple pay for overtime, an extra week's holidays and the right to refuse all overtime, regardless of the number of patients coming into hospitals.

To put some of these demands into perspective, Alberta nurses recently settled for five and five, Manitoba nurses settled for 4.8 and 5.2 per cent and a three-year deal for Ontario nurses came in at 3.25, 3 and 3. The national rate of inflation is 1.2 per cent at the moment, while Saskatchewan's housing market has pushed its rate up to 3.2 per cent.

A starting nurse in Saskatchewan now makes $26.90 an hour, just ahead of Manitoba at $26.80 but still behind $29.33 in Alberta.
Interestingly, Burton also says Ralph Klein helped foster the current political tone where governments cave and give whatever the nursing unions ask for, instead of standing firmly behind back to work legislation.

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