NURSING IS PHYSICALLY, intellectually and emotionally demanding. That's why nurses need comprehensive benefits that promote good health and support recovery from illness and injury. Both BCNU and health employers agree that health benefits are essential to nurses' well-being and their ability to provide quality patient care.
The current BCNU benefit package is one of the best in Canadian health care, and one of the only nurses' contracts where the employer pays 100 percent of the costs. Our 2016 contract improved this package further, adding Blue Rx, a new expanded drug formulary that greatly improved nurses' access to prescription drugs.
But this round of bargaining again saw employers coming to the table with the message that rising benefits costs is a serious issue. HEABC negotiators have told us that annual benefits form an ever-growing share of total compensation costs. The cost of providing coverage for unlimited massage therapy, for example, is skyrocketing. We have acknowledged this problem, and our bargaining team agreed that we can assume some responsibility for keeping our plan affordable and sustainable.
Our bargaining team took a proactive approach to this issue and agreed to explore ways of achieving efficiencies that don't require nurses to sacrifice our acquired gains. The proposed agreement establishes a clear, consultative process that allows us to explore ways of reorganizing our paramedical benefits plan (massage, physiotherapy, naturopathy, etc.) while increasing individual choice.
The union and employer will establish a working group and consult with nurses over 12 months to better understand our paramedical needs. Non-paramedical benefits (dental, drugs, vision, etc.) will not change, but could be improved by reallocating paramedical resources.
The working group will also look at enhancing support to vulnerable employees by improving access to early intervention services to nurses enrolled in the Enhanced Disability Management Program.
The current benefit plan will not change until January 1, 2021 at the earliest. Nurses will be consulted extensively over a 12-month period, and the working group will recommend changes to paramedical benefits based on the options members prefer.
The current paramedical benefits plan is risking other benefits that nurses rely on. By tailoring future paramedical benefits to meet our needs, we can make our whole benefits plan sustainable and secure the future of all nurses' benefits.
NO JOINT BENEFITS TRUST
In the last round of bargaining, many health sector bargaining associations agreed to a Joint Benefits Trust (JBT), a benefits cost-sharing agreement that requires workers to share the responsibility for financing the cost of all health and welfare benefits, including prescription drugs and long-term disability.
Health employers came to negotiations this year demanding that nurses accept a similar cost-sharing arrangement. But the Nurses' Bargaining Association once again resisted employer attempts to move nurses into a JBT and has retained one of the best benefit plans in health care.
FINDING THE BEST OPTION FOR NURSES
BCNU members to be consulted extensively on any changes to paramedical benefits
Under the terms of the proposed contract, nurses will be consulted extensively over a 12-month period, and a working group will recommend changes to paramedical benefits based on the options members prefer. The possible recommendations are:
Creating an Enhanced Flex Benefit Account
This option would give nurses an annual amount for paramedical benefits with more choice on how it’s spent. If the annual amount isn’t spent it would carry forward to future years for use as a pension enhancement, withdrawn as a retirement allowance or used for health benefits in retirement.
Limiting Massage and Increasing Other Benefits
This option recognizes that nursing is physically demanding and massage would be capped at levels that cover most members. Savings would be used to improve other benefits such as vision, dental or psychology.
As part of the member consultation process, the two options will be brought to Convention for discussion and a final vote on which option best serves the interests of all members.
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