Registered nurses in Alberta who need to isolate or quarantine because of COVID-19 exposure or illness will now be able to be paid for their time off, thanks to a recent agreement between the United Nurses of Alberta and the province’s health authority.
In a statement on the UNA’s website, the union said an “important memorandum of understanding” was signed on Jan. 16 that not only secured the pay options, but also delayed bargaining for a new collective agreement until the spring.
The pay change is retroactive to July 6, 2020, the UNA said. Any staff members looking to be paid, or to have sick days reinstated, for COVID-related time away from work during from July to January have to put in a request to their manager.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Negotiating committees for UNA and AHS have signed an important Memorandum of Understanding on COVID-19 measures and bargaining, including pay for employees who are required to self-isolate retroactive to July 6, 2020.https://t.co/ORIoBItNE4 #abhealth #ableg pic.twitter.com/g70tRgvMFR
— United Nurses of Alberta (@UnitedNurses) January 18, 2021
The pay options are as follows:
- Symptomatic employees without a confirmed workplace exposure: Must take a COVID-19 test and will be paid sick leave for regularly scheduled shifts for the duration of their illness or for the applicable isolation period. Employees who use up sick leave will have to apply for short- or long-term disability, however, normal elimination periods have been waived.
- Symptomatic employees with a confirmed workplace exposure: if they are sick, whether regular or casual, they can apply for Workers Compensation.
- Asymptomatic employees under quarantine: Must take a COVID-19 test, and will be eligible for basic rate of pay for all regularly scheduled shifts for the duration of the 14-day quarantine period. This isn’t available to employees required to quarantine because of non-essential international travel.
- Asymptomatic employees impacted by work restrictions and orders: will be eligible for a number of measures to make up for missed regularly scheduled shifts or be compensated for them.
Along with the pay options, employees are also being given one day of paid leave in the event they have to deal with family situations that arise from COVID-19, along with more unpaid leave.
“Other provisions include rules for redeployment of employees to other worksites, distribution of information about mental health supports available to employees, and a commitment by the employer to make all reasonable efforts to grant requests for time away from the workplace including ad hoc vacation and personal leave,” the union said.
Union president Heather Smith said Tuesday the agreement shows the understanding of Alberta Health Services of the stress registered nurses have been under in the workplace.
“It’s a little bit of good news in what has been a bad news environment for many months — a very stressful environment for many months,” she said.
“ additional recognition that COVID brings with it some unique issues for nurses in terms of having to make perhaps arrangements for family and that kind of thing related to COVID issues.”
Smith said the pause in collective bargaining also offers a sense of security to workers facing uncertainty every day.
“It’s a little bit of certainty in terms of what is and isn’t going to happen with regards to bargaining and the massive roll backs that we face at the table,” she said.
In an emailed statement, AHS said the agreement is “in the best interest of our staff as we work together with our unions to find solutions to many of the staffing challenged introduced by this pandemic.”
“The health and safety of our staff, patients and families are of the utmost importance to us and we are grateful to UNA leadership that we were able reach an agreement which allow us to collectively focus on our COVID-19 response,” AHS said.
Alberta nurses were eligible for isolation and quarantine pay early on in the pandemic under the province’s first state of public health emergency. However, when that was declared over on July 6, the pandemic pay options were eliminated.
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