04/26/2012 12:47 EDT | Updated 06/26/2012 05:12 EDT

Tentative deal for Saskatchewan nurses, but no details revealed

MOOSE JAW, Sask. - Saskatchewan nurses and their employer, the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations, have reached a tentative contract.

The association says details of the proposed two-year deal will not be released until after it's ratified.

Almost 9,000 registered nurses, nurse practitioners and registered psychiatric nurses are expected to vote on the contract in the coming weeks.

The two sides say they've also renewed a partnership agreement struck in 2008 which focuses on recruitment and retention of nurses.

Saskatchewan nurses signed their last contract in 2008.

That deal gave nurses a five per cent wage increase in each year of a four-year contract, as well as a five per cent bump to bring them in line with what Alberta nurses were making.

Nurses union president Rosalee Longmoore said they went into bargaining hoping to maintain what they have.

Although she could not give details on whether that meant an increase in pay, she said she hopes they can maintain a "competitive advantage" for Saskatchewan nurses.

"I feel pretty confident that our collective agreement will keep nurses in Saskatchewan," she said. "We're certainly recommending that our members accept this agreement, and we're pretty confident they will."

Longmoore and other union leaders will be touring the province's health facilities to explain the new agreement to their members starting Wednesday.

She said they are planning the ratification vote for May 28.

Longmoore also said they wanted to focus on "working through the partnership agreement to figure out what a renewed health-care system in this province going to look like."

"There was very little change to the language in the collective agreement. Some of it was literally housekeeping issues," she said.

However, a $6 premium for nurse practitioners that had been negotiated in a previous agreement will now become a part of their wage. This will enable that money to go towards both pensions and vacation pay.

"That was a major achievement as far as some monetary things. Other than that there is very little change to the current collective agreement," said Longmoore.

Another major issue in the bargaining process was safe staffing levels for hospitals. But Longmoore said it's something they will work on with the ministry and regional health authorities.

"It's a system issue and we want to look at it in its entirety to make sure that we are preserving employment for our members. But also that we are providing patient and family-centred care in every corner of the province," she said.

(Moose Jaw Times-Herald)