After public squabbles over nursing shortages in the Yukon’s communities, the Yukon Employees Union and the government have reached an agreement they hope will bring a more consistent supply of nurses north.
The deal was announced Tuesday, the day pre-bargaining started on a new collective agreement for government employees.
It will allow pairs of nurses to essentially share full-time permanent positions in the territory’s community health centres.
This new agreement won’t add any new jobs to the pool but will hopefully help fill the vacancies currently being filled by auxiliary on-call staff, both sides say.
Auxiliary staff are brought in from around Canada to cover vacancies using short contracts. There’s no guaranteed amount of annual hours and no consistency for the community. That’s not as appealing to potential employees as a permanent position, explained health spokesperson Pat Living.
Under the new model, nurses have the option of working in 10-week rotations. They’ll be able to work guaranteed hours, staying in one community and getting to know the people there, she said.
“A lot of these AOCs (auxiliary on calls) have come to us and said we would like to work for you, we want to work permanently, but we don’t want to work full-time.”
As early as today, the department will be approaching nurses on its on-call list to see if anyone wants to take advantage of the offer, Living said.
The department has admitted there are 11 full-time vacancies in the territory being filled by auxiliaries.
Four of those positions, to be filled by eight people, are taking priority, Living said. They are in Old Crow, Faro and Teslin, as well as a float position covering northern Yukon.
Union president Steve Geick, a former nurse, said this change is a step in the right direction when it comes to fixing the nursing shortage.
“There’s still a lot of things that need to be looked at,” he said.
“Some of them will be through bargaining and some of them will be, hopefully, through this kind of process where they come to us with a problem and we become part of the solution, rather than the whole thing coming out in the press and then we’re part of the solution.”
Issues around nursing in the communities came to a head earlier this year when the union and the NDP accused the government of putting Yukoners at risk by requiring nurses to work long stretches alone.
The government acknowledged that recruiting nurses is a challenge but denied that any nurse was working longer than five days by himself or herself.
The new hiring approach will be independently reviewed six months before the end of the new collective agreement to see how well it worked.
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