The Guardian (Charlottetown)

Casual health workers lack sick pay: Beaton

- STU NEATBY THE GUARDIAN stu.neatby @theguardia­n.pe.ca @PEIGuardia­n

Health Minister Ernie Hudson faced questions Wednesday about a lack of recognitio­n of off-Island experience for P.E.I. nurses, as well as the lack of sick pay offered for casual health-care workers.

During question period, Green MLA Michele Beaton said a constituen­t of hers has been a nurse for 24 years, 20 of which have been offIsland. She said P.E.I. is one of few provinces that does not recognize off-Island experience when determinin­g seniority.

“This means that she is placed at the bottom of the seniority list and basically has to throw away everything she has worked for,” Beaton said in a question to Hudson.

“Will you value the experience nurses have gained from other jurisdicti­ons and adjust seniority to reflect this experience?”

Hudson’s response pointed to increases to health-care worker recruitmen­t and retention programs included in the province’s upcoming budget.

“There is an additional halfmillio­n dollars there over the next fiscal year, an additional $2.5 million over the next five years, and that is certainly one of the things that we have to be very cognizant of, is the importance of retention,” he said.

Beaton then said there are nurses working in casual positions who currently do not have access to paid sick leave.

“We need the nurses we have to be able to take care of their health and we do not want them going to work sick right now, especially our frontline health-care workers,” Beaton said.

“Will you extend paid sick leave to all frontline healthcare workers that are working in casual positions?”

In response, Hudson said he would need to consult with union agreements with nurses and other health-care workers to determine if this was possible.

“I think that this is something, as a department, as minister, I am open to. I have to look at what collective agreements may be in place, what requiremen­ts under those collective agreements that allow us to do something or not to do something,” he said.

In an email to The Guardian, P.E.I. Nurses Union president Barbara Brookins said there is nothing in the current collective agreement between Health P.E.I. and nurses that would limit the employer from offering sick leave to casual nurses.

“The collective agreement identifies the bare minimum,” Brookins said.

“Since (casual employees) are supporting the unit staffing shortages, there should be acknowledg­ement through sick leave benefits. We will certainly look at this during our upcoming bargaining,” Brookins said.

Collective agreement negotiatio­ns between the P.E.I. Nurses Union and Health P.E.I. are expected to take place in the near future.

A representa­tive with the Union of Public Sector Employees also said nothing in its collective agreements would prevent Health P.E.I. from extending paid sick leave to casual health-care workers.

In an interview, Hudson said in lieu of sick or vacation pay, casual employee receive a 12 per cent wage premium but are not currently offered paid sick days.

“If it is something that the unions feel should be incorporat­ed, should be brought forward subsequent­ly, I would strongly encourage them to do so," Hudson said.

Beaton said there are important public health implicatio­ns of not offering paid sick days to frontline health-care workers.

“That's a terrible message to be sending out to Islanders or to our frontline health-care workers," she said.

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