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B.C. reaches contract with nurses, includes wage increase

Debra McPherson, President of the BC Nurses' Union, is eagerly awaiting the union’s unveiling of a new agreement to province-wide representatives next week.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's nurses have reached a tentative agreement with the provincial government that includes a small wage increase – a smooth spot in an otherwise rocky set of public sector negotiations that have already seen several one-day strikes and other job action.

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid won't say what the increase is worth, but she said Wednesday the agreement includes the addition of new nurses, among other improvements.

"This agreement offers solutions that benefit B.C.'s health system and help ensure future sustainability, while keeping patients' needs at the forefront," MacDiarmid said in a news release.

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"I would like to thank both parties for working collaboratively."

The agreement was reached under the government's co-operative gains mandate, which is an effort to get both sides looking at ways of saving money that can then go towards wage increases. The mandate's goal is to ensure taxpayers aren't on the hook for any contract improvements and services aren't reduced.

The deal must still be ratified. But Debra McPherson, president of the BC Nurses' Union, said she's looking forward to discussing it next week with the more than 32,000 registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses the union represents.

She said the deal ensures patient care will be done safely through safe staffing, enhanced job security and improved compensation.

"We are pleased we were able to work constructively with health employers to address our members' major concerns," said McPherson.

Details of the agreement will be released after the union presents it to a province-wide group of representatives next week.

Earlier this month, Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced that a round of restraint is on its way, in part because dropping natural gas prices have cost the government $1.1-billion in revenue.

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Thousands of workers have been pushing back in a range of separate union disputes.

The B.C. Government Employees Union instituted an overtime ban for its 25,000 public servants, a move that came after workers conducted their first full-scale walkout in more than two decades, albeit only for one day.

Staff at the Insurance corporation of B.C. also walked off their jobs for a day earlier this month and support staff at the University of Victoria shut down several campus buildings with walkouts.

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