Tuesday 16 February 2010

Wages Moderately Frozen

I may owe Greg Selinger an apology. I joked earlier about his "moderate" approach to dealing with a budget deficit, including restricting union raises to only three times the rate of inflation. However, it appears as though the government has taken a more aggressive line in proposing a two year wage freeze for public sector unionized employees. Yes.... even the nurses.

This will be quite a shock to the nurses, who two years ago negotiated a contract that gave them a 10% increase over two years plus guaranteed them the forth highest wages in Canada.

It will be interesting to see this play out. Will Selinger have the fortitude to stand his ground against fierce opposition from his loyal union voter base, or will he cave in and cut a generous deal with the unions to keep them happy and guarantee their support in the next election? If they stand their ground, how will the opposition react? That could put McFadyen in a very awkward position of either acknowledging the fiscal responsibility of the government, or maybe further abandoning their conservative ideology by standing up for the unions against a reckless wage freeze, in a futile attempt to capture new support. I can't see that happening, actually, but I am curious to see what they will do.

I think there is method to the madness though. I suspect that in the negotiations with the union leaders behind closed doors will go something like this: "Look, this is just a two year freeze. You sign this and help us get another majority government in 2011, and you will not regret it. I predict 2012 will be a very good year for you." wink wink.

It's interesting at how the government is going about this: with minister Wowchuck taking the message directly to the media, as though it were a trial balloon of some sort. If it doesn't float, Selinger will throw Rosanne under the bus and claim it was just an unfortunate side effect of her hormone replacement therapy -- that he never intended to have a wage freeze.

However, if Selinger and Wowchuck can actually convince the unions to buy into this, with a potential reward two years down the road, that will really put the other parties in a bit of a pickle when it comes to differentiating themselves and grabbing those middle voters who don't really pay close attention to anything, but have vague notions about fiscal responsibility.


John Dobbin said...

If they wanted to do a deal with the unions they wouldn't have negotiated in the media. The anger is as raw as it comes.

As far as nurses go, Saskatchewan has a raise of 5% this year and 5% next. Nurses will vote with their feet. As they have in the past.

They are certainly cuts that can be contemplated but if you want to go after nurses, they have professional options for movement that the government can't stop.

cherenkov said...

I think the threat that nurses will go running off to another province is an empty one. Why leave behind friends and family to go chasing a marginal increase in wage when you're already making $60-90k? I would say that 99.5% of nurses are staying put no matter what. the threat of flooding off to other provinces is a threat that is used for bargaining purposes. How many nurses have flooded into Manitoba in the past two years?

John Dobbin said...

The statistics even in a good economy is that 25% of graduating nurses leave the province. The average in the country is much better retention numbers. The numbers quoted on CJOB this morning was other provinces have 10 to 15% leaving.

When the Filmon Tories wielded the axe, nurses left the province in droves. As did doctors and other diagnostic professionals. I should know. My house was formerly owned by a doctor who left for the U.S. and never came back.

Manitoba has a harder time holding on to nurses. Ask Filmon how that went.

cherenkov said...

Most of those graduates are probably leaving for other reasons, including the iron grip that the union here has on nursing jobs and shifts. The so-called shortage has more to do with the union itself than with the wages that are paid.

The nurse's union doesn't want wage increases to hold on to grads. They want raises for the senior nurses, who are going nowhere because they are tied down with family and/or don't want to lose their all-important seniority by moving to another province.

Filmon cut jobs, so they had no choice but to look elsewhere. A meagre two year wage freeze will not have the same effect.

John Dobbin said...

Since we don't do really do exit interviews or study why nurses leave, no one can say for sure why nurses leave. All we do know is that they do leave and hundreds of jobs remain unfilled.

Manitoba is not all that different from other provinces with unionized nurses. Retention of nurses overall is a goal.

Senior nurses need new nurses coming into the system or they end up burned out and they also leave the system or opt for something less than full-time.

As I said, nurses vote with their feet as they have in the past. Some might not leave the province but if the job is not as attractive to younger grads, the established nurses can and will make changes.

It is probably unwise to think the government has them over a barrel.

cherenkov said...

I think it's unwise for SK to give their nurse's a 10% increase, unless they have been underpaid until now.

Regardless .. it's only a two year freeze. They can probably expect a big increase in two years if the NDP wins the next election, as will probably be the case. People aren't going to go running off because of a two year blip, unless they were looking for an excuse to leave anyhow.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the gov't will actually follow-through on this.

Maybe what we need is some stability: a long term contract with wages indexed to inflation so we don't keep having the ridiculous posturing and political manipulation every two years.

John Dobbin said...

We can't help what Saskatchewan does but if I was a new Manitoba nurse living closer to the provincial border, it might be tempting to work where the pay was 10% higher.

Ditto those close to Ontario.

I guess the trick for the NDP government is to get nurses and others to believe that things won't be so bad.

My feeling based on what we have seen before is that this will be hard to achieve. Many top health professionals have options if this province looks to be going in the wrong deirection in attractiveness to the profession.

Moreover, there is going to be a lot of trouble if the government plays one group off the other. If doctors are not frozen and nurses are, I expect a lot of hard feelings.

Heck, the nurses can just refuse overtime and the system becomes crippled.

Perhaps if the government stops negotiating in the media, they might actually get a long term contract if the goverment makes a real promise of improvement in a third year.

cherenkov said...

"If doctors are not frozen and nurses are, I expect a lot of hard feelings." .. this wouldn't apply to specialists, who are paid rates negotiated individaully for each of thousands of procedures through Doctors Manitoba. But yes .. I agree: which is why the gov't would need to hold the line with nurses if it hopes to hold the line with the other unions. If they cave with one group the whole thing crumbles down.

As for OT: the nurses may hold back for a short time as a negotiating tool, but they make a lot of money from OT.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone out there actually believe that the Selinger government is going to freeze civil service wages? This is a bargaining tactic to lower expectations. Talk zero now then give in to 2 per cent instead of 3 or 4 per cent. No way this province under the NDP will tolerate a strike -- they don't have the gonads for that.

John Dobbin said...

The government faces more trouble from overtime refusal than the nurses. As it stands now, the system totally depends on nurses taking overtime.

Anonymous said...

By all reports, the nursing system in Manitoba is set up to favour the nurses, especially the senior ones, and allow them to work when they feel like it. That way they can head to their cottage whenever it's convenient for them. Why are there so many part-time positions? Set this thing up so there are three shifts, eight hours each, almost all full-time. Why can't this be done? I am guessing the nurses' union blocks this somehow. If I'm wrong, someone please explain how it really works. I have no idea how Manitoba can add hundreds of nurses and still always have shortages and huge overtime. I smell some kind of racket here.

cherenkov said...

Anon: I have heard similar things as well. That is part of what I meant when I said "The so-called shortage has more to do with the union itself than with the wages that are paid." The senior nurses can work part time, supplement with OT, and still make excellent money, while jr nurses get the crappy split shifts and unpredictable hours. Better staffing can solve a lot of the problems, but the impression I get is that the union prevents that.

Anonymous said...

I'm a nurse and I just want to correct some incorrect assumptions:
Nurses who work part time do NOT get "overtime" wages until they have worked more than full time hours. A part time nurse who picks up an extra shift gets regular wage for that shift unless they have worked more than full time hours in the past two weeks.

I don't know of anywhere that works "split shifts", and particularly not where junior staff have that imposed on them. Maybe people who are making that claim could say where these "split shifts" are happening, and in what context??

Having a predictable schedule is actually in the contract at most locations - we call it a "rotation" - same pattern of shifts every six weeks or four weeks, etc. If a nursing position is such that it will have unpredictable hours, it says so in the job posting and the person knows that before they apply.

I know from colleagues that work in places that have eight hour shifts - it is much harder to schedule eight hour shifts, and nurses who work eight hours are significantly more likely to be asked to work OT beyond their scheduled shift if the next shift is short.

Yes, there are a lot of part time nurses. There are part time workers in other professions as well. Part of this may be related to the fact that 92-94% of nurses are female and work part time around family care and activities. No, that's not causing the shortage. Mandating people to work full time won't work, you'd have more people leaving. Work is work, family is family.

The real work of nursing is in the brain. The analyzing, assessing, problem solving. We do a very poor job of articulating that to the public, and I think we need to take responsibility for that. The public associates the work of nurses with what we call "tasks", and so they think if a nurse is not performing some hands on task, that nurse must be lazy and doing nothing.

I've been a nurse 11 years, and I can tell you that I have seen and experienced that solving the nursing shortage is not going to happen by heaping more on the people that are already working. My unit would stop functioning if people stopped picking up extra shifts - and we have a high ration of full time workers. You have no idea how much money is spent on overtime wages because people are working more than full time hours. It leaves you burnt out and exhausted and you don't need that in a nurse. I don't know if wages are the answer either, because I honestly don't have a handle on why the newer ones are leaving. We are being told that the average experience on most wards is 3-5 years. Where they are going after that and why they don't stay - I don't have that answer.

John Dobbin said...

No overtime is paid unless a nurse goes over 40 hours. Period. A part-time nurse would get paid regular hours if they picked up and hadn't gone over 40 hours.

12 hour shifts mirror what the doctors work and the hospital sets those hours.

There are very few split shifts according to the government stats. Those that do work them such as Recovery are experienced nurses rather than new nurses.

There are more part-time positions because that is often what the hospitals post. Ask the regional health authorities why they do this. There are 1500 vacancies in nursing because we still lose 25% of our graduates, have retiring nurses and the demand for medical services continue to grow.

The Selinger government is free to attack nurses if they want but should remember that nurses will continue to have options.

If the government wants to address the vacancies, they should be finding out why so many nurses leave the province or the profession.

cherenkov said...

Thanks for your comments, anon nurse. (And you too John, as always). Good to have misconceptions cleared up. Some of mine are based on second hand info, although I'm not sure I can take anonymous internet comments to the bank either, but anyhow .. I'll trust that you know your stuff. The split shift problem is one I recall hearing from someone, and I subsequently assumed it was more common than perhaps it is.

There has to be some way to better optimize shifts, to reduce part time, increase standard work weeks and reduce OT.

The question still remains: why are nurses leaving, if that is in fact the case? I don't think it's because of wages because the wages, which are published on line, are competitive. Somebody must be doing exit interviews. What are the nurses saying? Does it have something to do with working conditions? Bureaucracy? One can only wonder.

c dobbin said...

lol @ the idea that usernames are somehow less anonymous. I'm j dobbin's wife. :)

As far as why people leave nursing jobs here - the whole concept of "exit interviews" is a complete joke. The only two times I've ever heard of that being done, the exit interview was conducted by the individual unit manager of the ward. Ha ha. First there's the concept of not burning your bridges. Then there's the reality that if you are unhappy with your job because of workplace culture issues, it likely has something to do with that manager. Mostly people just fluff it and talk about "time to make a change", etc.

There are a LOT of "workplace" issues that can't be legislated into a contract, it can be really hard to talk about that stuff on a larger basis. A lot of it can boil down to ineffective lower level managers. As in any organization, really.

There is no real, sincere effort to find out why nurses leave jobs in this province. MNU does surveys from time to time, but it surveys current members, not asking why people left. It's either too expensive to contemplate this type of project, or possibly the top admins don't want to know the answers. If they really did find out why so many nurses leave the province, they might actually be held to doing something to change that. That could be a huge task. Especially considering how hard it is to find good managers in the field already.

The reason a part time nurse is able to make up some extra money by picking up extra shifts is because those shifts were vacant to begin with. The way to reduce part time work and reduce vacancy is to fill positions so it actually becomes competitive to get a spot. The places that are cool, popular and desirable to get jobs - have no vacancies at all, and people are always trying to get in on jobs there. But if you get a job someplace and you know that you are only a drop in the bucket, that you'll always be working short, that they will always call you on your days off to ask if you are willing to work extra... the job is a burden rather than a privilege.

You also have to consider that newer nurses are going to be “generation Y” – and we are told that these people tend not to stay in jobs as long as previous generations did. And they often do leave friends and family behind to go have adventure in BC or someplace else. I hear it all the time. But I don't hear that the reason they do that is our wage here. It might be one factor to add to the pile if you are thinking of leaving anyway. The union is our representative body, and they only have the ability to change certain things in our work environment. It could be that wages are what they talk about because nobody knows what else to talk about, or the "other" factors are harder to change.

When I saw the news about the governemt saying they would have a wage freeze, I just cringed and thought the union would NOT react well. The last time we had a "strike", all we did was not pick up extra shifts. That was all it took, because we are that short of nurses. That's pretty scary. I really hate when things get negotiated in the media, and I hope this doesn't turn ugly. If MNU doesn't agree with a wage freeze (and it sounds like they aren't!), it wouldn't take huge amounts of action to fight it.

cherenkov said...

There's no point doing exit interviews if you're not going to do them properly. I would not hesitate to tell the truth if I left my job, but it certainly wouldn't be my line manager doing it. In my view, ineffective front line management is usually a product of poor upper management. An organization needs to be willing to cut loose poor managers, promote based on merit, not seniority, and recognize and address those "other factors" in order to operate efficiently and effectively. I have never been under the impression that the regional health authorities were either particularly effective or efficient.

c dobbin said...

I wholeheartedly agree.

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