‘I’d like to see it done before Christmas’: N.B. government still trying to reach agreement with nurses

A strike vote is looming for the New Brunswick Nurses Union – after the rejection of two tentative agreements this fall.

The union is planning a town hall information session for members on Tuesday, and are 'gearing up' to take strike votes later this week. But the N.B. government said Friday, talks are ongoing and have remained positive.

“We all want to see it happen sooner than later,” said N.B. Health Minister Dorothy Shephard. “And certainly when I did some travels last week throughout the province, we talked to medical staff about safety, so I know that’s top of mind.”

Registered nurses, nurse practitioners, nurse managers and supervisors have been without a contract since Dec. 2018.

President of the NBNU, Paula Doucet, has described difficult working conditions, including 24 hour shifts, violent incidents, denied vacation and burnout. There are hundreds of vacant nursing positions across the province – and the pandemic has made the shortage even more difficult.

“After two rejected tentative agreements, nurses in this province are sending a message to government and employers that enough is enough and things need to start changing for the better,” she said Sunday. “It’s a difficult thing for nurses to do, but they have found their strength collectively to demand better for themselves and the patients/residents/clients they provide healthcare to in N.B.”

Premier Blaine Higgs said they’ve reviewed nurses’ shift schedules, and acknowledge they can be grueling.

He also recognized issues around workplace safety, and said they are trying to find ways to make hospitals safer.

“It’s kind of unconscionable, to think that we’re at an age in time where our hospitals are not safe to go to work,” he said. “I think it’s unfortunate that someone is in the position to work longer shifts than anyone should be expected to, but not only once or now and then because of an emergency – but quite routinely. And they’ve made it clear they just can’t have a work/life balance without that being addressed, and I don’t disagree.”

Higgs said he’s hoping an agreement can be reached before Christmas.