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Nursing Crisis Looming in Nunavut

IQALUIT, NU, Dec. 3 – Nunavut will be facing a major nursing crisis in the near future if serious improvements to nurses’ wages and working conditions are not forthcoming during the current round of negotiations between the Government of Nunavut (GN) and the Nunavut Employee Union (NEU) representing the nurses. “The Government of Nunavut has no choice but to improve substantially the nurses’ wages and working conditions,” said Doug Workman, President of the NEU. “Nunavut will not be able to attract and retain competent nurses much longer if the government does not provide them with competitive salaries, a better cost of living allowance and decent housing,” he added.

The turnover among Nunavut nurses is currently very high because it is easy for them to find better wages and working conditions somewhere else. The Union also decries the government hiring of agency and contract nurses whose stay in Nunavut is of short duration.

“The government does not seem to realize that it costs more to constantly hire new nurses for short periods of time than to provide good salaries and working conditions to nurses who are ready to stay in Nunavut,” Workman said.

Workman also said that the NEU has received the nurses’ list of demands and that they will be put forward forcefully at the bargaining table. He believes the nurses fulfill an important role in Nunavut and that a very serious problem could arise everywhere in Nunavut if the government does not take their demands seriously. In many locations, nurses are the only providers of health care.

The Regional Executive Vice-President of the PSAC in the North, Jean-François DesLauriers, believes the union and the government will be able to negotiate a compensation package that recognizes the important role nurses play in the delivery of health and social programs in Nunavut.

“Without the work and dedication of the nurses, many people of Nunavut would be deprived of vital services,” Des Lauriers said. “We will do every thing it takes to make sure the nurses are adequately compensated for their crucial work,” he added.

For the union, the nursing strategy that was tabled at the Legislature last week does not put forward a valid solution to the nursing problems of Nunavut. However Workman is determined to negotiate a collective agreement that will attract nurses to Nunavut and ensure they stay for the long term.

The current negotiations between the government and the NEU will also determine the next collective agreement for other government workers such as college instructors, social workers, custodial workers, engineers and others.

The collective agreement between the Government of Nunavut and the NEU expired in September 2006 and negotiations started in December 2006. The last session of negotiations ended on October 5 and the next set of meetings are scheduled to begin today.

For further information: Doug Workman, NEU President, (867) 975-1530; Marija Babic, PSAC Regional representative, (867) 445 8112