Registered Nurses Union president Debbie Forward says ongoing collective bargaining negotiations could have been upended by comments by deputy minister of Health and Community Services John Abbott.
Abbott spoke to the CBC on Thursday, making statements that there are too many nurses in the province, and nurses who claim too much overtime and are unproductive, among other statements that Forward finds troubling.
A statement released on Friday from the Department of Health and Community Services walked back from Abbott’s remarks, noting that Abbott’s statements do not reflect government policy — though Abbott is the most senior bureaucrat in the department.
Forward says even if Abbott’s statements about nurses aren’t government policy, they cast a long shadow over ongoing contract negotiations between the union and the government.
“These are the very issues we’re talking about at the bargaining table,” said Forward.
“I’m really struggling to accept that these are not the views of government. After they’ve been said, how can I say to my members, ‘Don’t worry, they didn’t mean it,’ while that person has the ear of the minister.”
Forward says she is going to speak to the nurses’ union board of directors to figure out what the next steps are in the negotiations, in light of Abbott’s comments.
“In my conversation with (Finance) Minister (Tom) Osborne, he assured me that he wants to bargain in good faith — that was his commitment to me and he’s keeping that commitment,” said Forward.
“I’m at a little loss for words in terms of what all this means. It’ll be a discussion with us, with our board. We’ll make a decision in terms of what this means for bargaining. It puts us in an uncertain environment, in my opinion.”
Forward says the timing is even worse for the nurses she represents, with the Christmas season in full swing. She says nurses will have to work through Christmas, wondering if their job is on the line.
“Who are they to believe right now? The minister of finance is saying ‘trust me’ and we’ve got a bureaucrat who just disrespected registered nurses to a degree that I haven’t seen in recent years,” said Forward.
A teleconference is scheduled for next week with the nurses’ union board where the implications of Abbott’s comments will be discussed.