In the past two months I have had the pleasure of travelling the province and meeting with more than 2,000 members who attended a BCNU bargaining strategy conference in their region. I was joined by other members of BCNU's provincial executive committee, and we all had the opportunity to listen and respond to members' concerns.
I heard about the challenges nurses continue to face daily, from unacceptable workloads and inadequate staffing, to the ongoing risk of harm from workplace violence. I was also told first-hand about the extremely difficult nurse recruitment and retention problems that persist in rural and remote communities, and how health employers must do more to attract the skilled health-care workers these regions so desperately need.
Many nurses I spoke with were also participating in a BCNU event for the first time, and I was impressed by their passion, optimism and willingness to share their hopes for the future.
These regional conferences are an important first step in the process of bargaining a new provincial collective agreement, and the input we gathered will be combined with the feedback the union receives from November's online survey that was made available to the more than 40,000 members covered by the Nurses' Bargaining Association contract. The results will be presented at our provincial bargaining conference in January, and will help determine our top priorities before we sit down to negotiate with health employers later in the year.
I want to thank all of those members who took time to participate in our bargaining survey. Your input is critical to our success as a union and ensures that we have a strong collective voice when advocating for safe patient care throughout our province.
Despite the challenges I heard from members I know there is also cause for optimism in the year ahead.
The election of a new provincial government has brought new opportunities, and the NDP's commitment to invest in public services is reason enough to be optimistic about future negotiations. Our meetings with the ministers of health, mental health and addictions, labour and advanced education have all been very positive and I look forward seeing nurses' concerns reflected in whatever decisions the government makes.
The provincial violence prevention campaign that we launched this spring is picking up momentum. We took advantage of this year's provincial election to further advance our message that violence is not part of the job. Fifty eight provincial MLAs – including two current party leaders – signed nurses' campaign pledge to advocate for violence-free workplaces, and I'm now looking forward to seeing the provincial government ensure that health employers take concrete action on workplace health and safety in 2018.
Implementing the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace will also be a top priority. BCNU is the first union in the country to negotiate this standard into a collective agreement, and we will be working with health authorities to target toxic work environments and ensure that every effort is made to protect our members' mental health.
Finally, I am pleased to report that our recently approved three-year strategic plan puts BCNU on a strong footing as we head into a new year. Our priority is to strengthen our organization through sound governance and strong member advocacy. To that end, the union is now fully staffed with committed and experienced labour relations officers and other professionals who are ready to provide exceptional member service in 2018 and beyond.
I am optimistic, and know that nurses are now in an excellent position to build on the successes of 2017 in the year ahead.
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