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BCNU considers pre-election contract offer from BC government

The B.C. Nurses' Union is examining a contract offer from the provincial health ministry and a decision from the BCNU leadership is expected early next week.

The offer comes a year before the BCNU's contract expires and two months before the provincial election. The government has pledged to freeze public sector wages, fueling speculation on what has motivated the BCNU to seek a new contract now.

“We've had discussions,” said Art Moses, spokesperson for the BCNU. “It's not nailed down.” He hoped to have more to say Monday or Tuesday, he said.

“Yes, they've been talking,” said Michelle Stewart, a spokesperson for the health ministry. The government is waiting for the BCNU leadership to approve the offer, she said. “The Nurses Union approached government in the new year to see if there was any possibility of coming to an agreement.”

The budget Finance Minister Colin Hansen presented in February contained no money for wage increases for civil servants and he stressed at the time there would be restraint on government spending.

Stewart says the offer to the BCNU is consistent with the government's fiscal situation and position on wage increases. “This lives within the spirit of the budget and the spirit of that direction,” said Stewart.

Several sources say that instead of raising wages, the government may have agreed to legislate that the BCNU will represent licensed practical nurses. Those workers are currently represented by the Hospital Employees' Union.

Asked to comment, HEU spokesperson Mike Old said, “That's not an issue we're prepared to comment on at this time.”

In a message circulated to BCNU members March 3, and obtained by the Public Eye website, BCNU president Debra McPherson wrote the time was right to extend the contract "because it would provide stability in health care during difficult economic times. A contract extension to 2012 would be advantageous because economic conditions may be better at that time."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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