Alberta Finance Travis Toews has announced Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) have ratified a new collective agreement that will see a 4.25% pay raise for Alberta nurses.

UNA said the new collective agreement involves more than 30,000 registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses, represented by 130 UNA locals. The pay raise — spread out over the four-year deal — will keep Alberta nurses among the highest paid in Canada.

“I am pleased to hear that registered nurses have voted to accept the mediator’s recommendation. This four-year labour agreement comes after many months of dedicated negotiations,” said Toews.

“Alberta’s nurses have played a critical role throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re deeply appreciative of the role they have played in caring for our friends, families and neighbours over the past two difficult years.”

As part of the new collective agreement, UNA said nurses will receive a one-time lump payment of 1% in recognition of their pandemic efforts, as well as enhanced psychological and mental health supports. UNA also said semi-annual lump-sum payments will be convereted to the wage grid.

“I also applaud the parties in arriving at an agreement that recognizes and works to address the unique labour market realities facing Alberta and North America in the recruitment and retention of registered nurses,” said Toews.

The new agreement will allot $5 million annually to recruiting and retaining staff in rural and remote Alberta. It also comes with the creation of a union-employer provincial workload advisory committee with $2.5 million allocated to relocation assistance.

AHS President and CEO, Dr. Verna Yiu brought in a mandatory COVID-19 immunization plan or AHS staff late last year. Approximately 1,650 full-and part-time AHS staff were subsequently put on involuntary leave without pay for noncompliance.

AHS was forced to walk back the mandate by providing testing options for some staff after critical staffing shortages, particularly in rural Alberta. The agency’s website details province-wide notices of physician and volunteer shortages. Red alerts due to EMS staffing shortages are also on the rise.

UNA is has filed more than 150 grievances on behalf of its members related to AHS’ Immunization or Testing of Workers for COVID-19 policy.

UNA deemed the policy “unfair, unreasonable, and discriminatory, and inconsistent with the UNA-Multi-Employer Collective Agreement.”

Amber Gosselin is a reporter with the Western Standard.

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