Nurses' bonuses program 'a fiasco': YEU

Nurses’ bonuses program ‘a fiasco’: YEU

The president of the union representing nurses under Yukon government employment says payment delays for bonus packages promised back in December raise serious concerns “about the potential violation of workers’ rights” and “human rights.”

By Ethan Lycan-Lang 
Photo by Whitehorse Star

Whitehorse Star, published February 17, 2023
Reprinted with permission
Shared February 20, 2023

The president of the union representing nurses under Yukon government employment says payment delays for bonus packages promised back in December raise serious concerns “about the potential violation of workers’ rights” and “human rights.”

Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee announced a new bonus package for government-employed nurses on Dec. 1. 

The $6-million package was meant to entice nurses to come work in the Yukon and stay long-term. Last October, McPhee told the legislative assembly the territory’s vacancy rate for community nursing exceeds 40 per cent.

Two and a half months after that announcement, Yukon Employees’ Union (YEU) president Steve Geick told the Star Wednesday those bonus payments have only just started being delivered – and some nurses still don’t have them. Others, he said, are confused about their eligibility.

“This has been a fiasco from the beginning,” Geick said.

“I really don’t have any understanding of why we’re here. Nor is anybody offering any explanations.”

The recruitment and retention package was supposed to immediately pay bonuses of $15,000 to registered nurses and nurse practitioners, along with $8,000 for licensed practical nurses. 

The deal included similar retention bonuses for these nurses starting in April and a $10,000 bonus for primary care nurses working in Yukon communities – though no timeline is given for that payout.

There are also signing bonuses for new nurses and reimbursement of exam fees for new nursing grads hired by YG.

But Geick said he’s been receiving calls from nurses since the bonus package was announced – asking when those “immediate” bonuses are coming.

“We don’t have the answers,” he said.

Some have been paid now, though Geick is unsure how many exactly. He said communication from YG has been lacking.

“This is for recruitment and retention (of nurses),” Geick said. “I think someone should probably ask (YG) how many nurses have been hired? How many left? Because they certainly won’t tell us.”

There have also been questions over who should qualify for these bonuses, Geick said.

Nurses employed by Yukon Hospital Corp., where a nursing shortage has recently led to backlogged surgeries through March, are not employed by YG and are not eligible for the bonus package.

Geick said nurses in management positions shouldn’t be eligible either – yet he’s heard of some receiving bonuses from the package this month.

Then there are those who seemingly should receive bonuses, but aren’t sure they will.

“We’ve been contacted by 12 registered nurses who work for the Yukon government who are on maternity leave, and are being told they don’t qualify,” Geick said.

The union is in discussion with the Yukon Human Rights Commission, Geick said, and will be filing numerous grievances.

“One of them will be based on family status,” Geick said.

Family status and pregnancy are prohibited grounds for unfavourable treatment under the territory’s Human Rights Act. 

The Star requested an interview with minister McPhee for this article – but was instead provided with an emailed response Thursday from a department spokesperson.

The response did not address whether managers are qualifying for bonuses or if nurses on maternity leave are being told they’re ineligible. Nor does it comment on the reason for delays – or how many nurses are still awaiting bonuses.

The email said the majority of bonuses were paid on Feb. 8, with further payout “scheduled for the next pay period.”

Those who don’t receive payment then will be handled on a case-by-case basis, and signing bonuses “will continue to be processed as quickly as possible.

“Our government remains committed to supporting all health care workers in the territory, including nurses,” the statement read.

“Nurses play a critical role in the territory’s health care system, and we are grateful for their expertise, dedication and care.”

Yukon government nurses who have questions about the bonus can reach out to their supervisor or human resources at the Department of Health and Social Services, the response said.

Geick said the YEU has also suggested nurses with questions talk to their supervisors and HR – but they too have been unable to provide answers.

He said the union has talked to the Public Service Commission for help. He said he’s been told the commission would look into the situation – but he’s heard nothing back yet.

Geick said he’s never seen anything like this in his 25-year career.

“It’s another one of these ill-conceived Liberal plans that really didn’t have a plan on how it was going to be enacted,” he said.

“The confusion that this has caused, it’s not boding well for the government should we end up in a strike position.”

A strike by all YG employees, not just nurses, is a possibility this year. 

Although packages for nurses were agreed upon in December, collective bargaining continues between YG and the YEU. They’re currently at an impasse over wages, benefits and working conditions for non-management YG employees. 

Negotiations began in late 2021, and the collective agreement between the two parties expired at the end of that year.

As talks proved fruitless, a conciliator was brought in last June, but they concluded in January that mediation was going nowhere and declared an impasse.

The YEU and YG will now present their cases to a conciliation board.

It will include one member from both sides and a mutually-agreed-upon independent chair.

Once that board is selected – Geick expects before the end of March – it will review arguments from the government and union.

The chair will then issue a non-binding report. If no agreement is reached in light of the board’s recommendations, Geick has said, YG employees may consider striking.


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