Manitoba PCs accuse NDP of ‘bullying tactic’ in effort to draw private agency nurses back to public sector

Manitoba’s government says a new tentative contract will draw nurses working for private agencies back into the public health-care sector — but the Opposition says the NDP is trying to bully nurses.

A new tentative four-year contract includes a clause that prohibits nurses working for private nursing agencies from also picking up extra hours through the public sector in the same health region.

The agreement was narrowly ratified by nurses last week — except for those working at Shared Health.

The reliance on private nursing agencies to staff health-care facilities in the province has increased costs for the system, Premier Wab Kinew said during a committee meeting Wednesday.

The tentative agreement with the Manitoba Nurses Union will help stop that by giving nurses the flexibility many want, he said.

“Many [nurses] felt … that only through the private agencies could they control their own schedule, could they have work-life balance, could they be able to work in the settings that they were comfortable with,” Kinew said Wednesday.

“What we’re doing now within this new tentative agreement is saying that we’re going to allow you control over when you work.”

A man in a suit, sitting at a table.
Premier Wab Kinew said on Wednesday that the tentative agreement will draw nurses back to public system through a provincial float pool, which hospitals will be able to rely on instead of turning to private agencies. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Under the new tentative agreement, a health-care facility that doesn’t have enough nurses will eventually no longer turn to private agencies first, but instead be able to rely on a provincial float pool of nurses, once that pool is sufficiently staffed, Kinew said.

That float pool has now been expanded to include Winnipeg. Public-sector nurses hired into that pool can work at a number of facilities, making it easier for them to reach full-time hours, said Kinew.

The tentative agreement includes additional payments for full-time nurses, and part-time and casual nurses who work up to full-time hours, who will receive a $12,000 per year incentive starting in April 2025.

The incentive will be a two-year trial and could be extended if it results in decreased overtime hours and reliance on private agency nurses.

“The days of mandatory overtime and nurse-to-patient ratios deteriorating are over,” Kinew said Wednesday.

‘Blunt instrument’: health critic

However, Progressive Conservative health critic Kathleen Cook said the clause restricting private agency nurses from picking up public-sector hours in the same health region is the “wrong approach,” because it forces nurses to choose between working for a private agency or a health region.

She accused the NDP government of trying to pressure nurses into the public system, rather than listening to their concerns and drawing them back in.

“I think rather than forcing nurses to make that choice, we should be trying to provide them with a lot of the same benefits that they leave the public system for,” Cook said Wednesday.

A woman with shoulder-length blonde hair wearing a suit is pictured.
Progressive Conservative health critic Kathleen Cook said the provincial government is forcing nurses into the public system rather than listening to their concerns and drawing them back in. (Warren Kay/CBC)

“We see other provinces providing substantial incentives to nurses working in the public system. This approach is a bit more of a bullying tactic as I see it. It’s less of an incentive and more of a blunt instrument.”

Cook said nurses with Shared Health, including many working at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre, have yet to ratify the agreement, which is “concerning” and tells her that there’s more work to do.

This nurses’ contract was ratified by all other health regions. Negotiations between the union and employer continue. 

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said in a statement to CBC that there is no room in the public health care system for private, for-profit health care. 

She said that if the province redirected the money it spends on hiring from private agencies, it could bolster recruitment and retention efforts and bring agency nurses back into the public system.

“We could work on rebuilding broken infrastructure that allows for violence in the workplace, and drives nurses into early retirement,” she said.