The P.E.I. Nurses Union says it's concerned an incentive to help fill nursing shifts has expired while vacancies remain high.
Starting last summer, any part-time or casual nurse who picked up extra shifts got paid time and a half. But the deal establishing that incentive expired on Friday, and the Nurses Union says it's not getting renewed because a new collective agreement is now in effect.
"The reason it's a bad time is there is no plan in place for how they're going to fill all the vacant shifts," said union president Barbara Brookins.
The Nurses Union estimates 29 per cent of nursing jobs are vacant, while Health P.E.I. says it's closer to 20 per cent. Still, Brookins said there are empty shifts and nurses are being stretched thin.
Some P.E.I. nurses are feeling frustrated and tired as more than a quarter of jobs remain vacant, says Barbara Brookins. (Laura Meader/CBC)
"The nurses have been holding the system together picking up extra shifts as much as they can," she said. "The employer has now chosen to get rid of a memorandum that was at least recognizing the value of those members who were going above and beyond."
Health P.E.I. says it wants full-time nurses
Corinne Rowswell, Health P.E.I.'s chief operating officer, said the incentive was extended until this month to ensure summer vacations would be covered.
There are no plans to bring back the incentive, she said.
Rowswell said the health authority is now trying to entice nurses to take full-time positions, and that the new collective agreement will do just that.
Health P.E.I. is hoping the collective agreement makes full-time work more appealing, says chief operating officer Corinne Rowswell. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC)
"We hope that by incentivizing the close to full-time that more nurses would want to take on extra lines or extra positions," she said.
The new collective agreement contains incentives, she said. That includes a 7.75 per cent wage increase for registered nurses and a $1 increase for weekend premiums.
Nurses also still get time and a half to fill last-minute vacancies, like sick calls.
The rate of nurses working in part-time roles in P.E.I. is higher than the national average, Rowswell said.
She said having more full-time nurses "allows for some stabilization in scheduling and in making sure we have the staff that we need to do the work."
'We are in a different time right now'
Brookins said the collective agreement works, but only when there is enough staff.
"The language in the collective agreement would work if all of the positions were filled. But we have to recognize that we are in a different time right now."
She said her members' concerns aren't "all about the money."
"The vacancy rate keeps going up and the nurses keep doing more. So who is the problem here?"
The current collective agreement expires in 2025.