The health minister says the Yukon Employees’ Union is spreading inaccurate information about the government’s proposed recruitment and retention bonus package for nurses.
The union says the minister seems misinformed about the nature of consultations.
In response to a question the NDP raised in question period about staffing nurses in hospitals on Oct. 18, Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said the Yukon government has brought forward an “extensive package” of benefits and retention bonuses for nurses in the territory.
“That package is currently being discussed with the Yukon Employees’ Union,” she said.
That comment prompted a response from the union, which represents nurses among other government employees.
In an Oct. 19 press release, union president Steve Geick said talks about the bonus package proposed by the employer started and ended at the same meeting.
He said the Yukon government is ignoring what nurses have told them repeatedly about raising wages.
“[Nurses] don’t want one-off, lump-sum bonuses which mean a bigger tax hit,” he said in the release.
“They don’t want bribes that only go to new hires, ignoring all the dedicated workers who have put in years of service in the Yukon. They don’t want their difficult working conditions further worsened by an employer who devalues their dedication with a cynical offer of a quick cash top-up.”
Geick said the union has held many meetings with nurses it represents and they want wages to go up as incentive for more nurses to move to the territory and stay here.
He said, for example, agency fly-ins are making more money to do the same job.
“We are not prepared to negotiate in the media or legitimize the political opportunism demonstrated by Minister McPhee in the legislative assembly,” reads the release.
“This is a chronic problem, and the employer has failed to show true leadership too many times.”
During question period on Oct. 24, Yukon Party MLA for Lake Laberge Brad Cathers asked about the breakdown between the two parties.
McPhee said she isn’t picking a public fight with nurses, but rather responding to questions that come up in the House.
“There were a number of things that were inaccurate in that media release, which, I note, was done by the Yukon Employees’ Union, indicating that they weren’t interested in a media negotiation, but they in fact did a media release,” she said.
After question period, McPhee told reporters nurses haven’t been made aware of this particular package, as far as she was aware.
She said the union “didn’t even ask the nurses what they were interested in.”
McPhee noted the package is not only for new hires and the plan is to have the cost of the bonuses put into the government’s budget for the next three years, for a total of $9.6 million.
The union and the territorial government are in the process of negotiating a collective agreement — which covers government employees including government-employed nurses — since the previous one expired on Dec. 31, 2021.
McPhee said those talks have stalled.
“It looks like near the end of November, we’ll be back at the table, and that is an absolute commitment,” McPhee said.
“This is quite separate and apart from that absolute commitment to discuss appropriate salaries.”
In an interview on Oct. 25, Geick said there are inconsistencies in the minister’s version of events. He said a part of the package is directed at new hires, and McPhee doesn’t seem to think that bringing these items up in question period is a form of bargaining in the press.
Geick said the union has been checking the pulse on nurses since June 2021 when it started getting bargaining input.
“To say that we didn’t ask is untrue,” he said.
He said the problems with the retention and recruitment bonuses are that they aren’t pensionable, don’t count towards severance and aren’t going to increase the base rate of nurses.
The union has been told the government is committed to making it pensionable by conducting an assessment and then putting forward a proposal for how it could be done.
But Geick isn’t buying it.
“I have no faith, none, whatsoever, in this government, especially Health and Social Services and McPhee, to follow through on anything,” Geick said.
Negotiations are booked for the end of November and in December.
“We’re at an impasse right now,” Geick said.
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org