Nurses union offers temporary solution to overtime dispute with health authority

An end may be in sight for a weeks-long dispute over overtime payments to nurses.

The disagreement over how to interpret contract language has forced some nurses to work extra long hours or to look after more patients because their colleagues have refused to work extra shifts.

Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey has promised an annual meeting of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union an answer by this Thursday to a proposal put forward late last week by their president, Janet Hazelton.

The nurses union president has made a proposal that would see the Nova Scotia Health Authority return to a decades-old interpretation of overtime contract language while the disagreement makes it was through a grievance process.

Both the nurses union and the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees union have opposed the reinterpretation of the contract.

The health authority has determined that nurses scheduled to work 75 hours during a two-week period, but who have had one or more absences due to such things as illness or vacation, should no longer get overtime pay for extra shifts worked during that period.

Nurses continue to be paid overtime for working beyond their scheduled shift.

Hazelton says the new interpretation of overtime language came into force in February and has infuriated her members who are refusing extra shifts in protest.

According to Hazelton, the proposed temporary solution would allow the grievance process to proceed as planned but the old interpretation of the rules would be reinstated.

Delorey called the proposal “interesting” and said if it could go ahead without affecting the grievance process, as the union claims, he’d be ready to endorse it.

Although he said it would be a health authority decision.

Nova Scotia Nurses Union president Janet Hazelton with Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Hazelton said without a temporary solution, she expected more emergency room closures and other disruptions during the summer months when hospitals traditionally scale back to allow staff to take holidays.

Hazelton made her proposal to the health authority on Thursday.

Delorey found out about it on Friday and Hazelton said she spoke to Premier Stephen McNeil about it on Saturday.

Health ministers traditionally attend the annual meetings of the nurses union to address delegates. This was Delorey’s second time before the group.

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