Around 6,000 health-care workers, including nurses, have rejected tentative contract agreements reached last month.
The New Brunswick Nurses Union said workers in two bargaining units “overwhelmingly” rejected the tentative agreements with the N.B government that have been in the making for years.
All sides formerly agreed to withhold details of the deals pending their ratification.
In a news release, union president Paula Doucet said nurses are fearful for their future, exhausted from working unhealthy amounts of overtime and on-call, and are pleading to have their voices heard by health care leaders.
“With an overwhelming rejection vote, their voices are heard, and their demand for respect is more evident than ever,” she was quoted as saying.
The previous contracts expired on December 31, 2018.
The release said the union will be meeting with its negotiating teams and local presidents and will continue to seek for “a renewed collective agreement that will more fully address the concerns of our members.”
In a statement, Premier Blaine Higgs expressed his disappointment that the tentative agreement was not accepted by union members.
“It’s important we address the reality of their fundamental concerns, which have built over many years,” Higgs said.
“I’ve heard the accounts of nurses working 24-hour shifts and struggling to take vacation. This is as much about a health-care system that is broken as it [is] a contract, and successive governments have not had the will to deal with it.”
“That changes now,” the statement said.
Higgs went on to say that he comprehends nurses are feeling frustrated and struggling with burnout.
“The status quo is not acceptable and our government is going to address it directly with the Regional Health Authorities,” he said.
The statement did not address next steps in the contract process.
Proposed deals covered variety of services
On July 16, the provincial government announced it reached tentative collective agreements with two bargaining sections that constitute over 6,000 registered nurses, nurse managers, nurse supervisors working in hospitals, nurse practitioners, Ambulance NB and extramural programs, and community health programs.
“This tentative agreement represents an important milestone for our province and I thank the union for coming to the table in a spirit of respect and collaboration,” Premier Blaine Higgs said at the time.
The union said in July that at least 854 nursing jobs were vacant in N.B., up 154 in July.
It also did not reveal the percentage of workers who voted, or the percentage of workers who said no to the deal.
Doucet was unavailable for an interview Thursday afternoon.