B.C. NDP leadership race: Anjali Appadurai promises 25-per-cent pay raise for nurses

Appadurai’s platform did not include a dollar figure for how much the initiatives would cost taxpayers.

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B.C. nurses would see a 25-per-cent pay raise under a government led by B.C. NDP leadership challenger Anjali Appadurai.

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The climate activist, who is running against former attorney-general David Eby for the party’s leadership, released a seven-point health-care plan Thursday, which also promised raises for home care and long-term care workers and would tie health-care wages to inflation.

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Appadurai did not have a dollar figure for how much the pay raises or her larger health initiatives would cost taxpayers.

“I don’t know what that dollar figure would be,” Appadurai told Postmedia in an interview. “But I know that we can afford it and I know that it’s absolutely necessary to preserve the integrity of our public health-care system.”

The raise would prevent B.C.’s nurses from being lured to the private system, Appadurai said, which is able to pay them 50 to 100 per cent more than the public sector. She said investing in community care and preventative treatment would lessen the burden on the health-care system and be cost-effective in the long run.

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Labour experts say a 25-per-cent raise for nurses could have a ripple effect across the entire public sector since many unions push for comparable wage increases during negotiations.

Mark Thompson, a professor emeritus at the Sauder School of Business at UBC, said to avoid an expensive “me too” domino effect, there could be an argument made that nurses are a “special case” since they are in desperately short supply.

“The tricky part is going to be how you arrange these special deals without upsetting the apple cart,” Thompson said.

Figures from the Finance Ministry show that wages for the province’s 400,000 public-sector employees costs $38.6 billion, or more than half of the province’s budget. A one-per-cent increase for all unionized employees across the entire public sector would cost about $311 million a year.

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There are approximately 38,863 nurses in B.C.

B.C. Nurses’ Union president Aman Grewal welcomed Appadurai’s proposal, saying “we think that our nurses deserve fair wages and safe working conditions.”

Unionized nurses received a six-per-cent pay raise between 2019 and 2022. Nurses have been without a contract since March and the union is gearing up for a tough negotiation process.

Appadurai also said she would ensure all British Columbians have access to free mental health counselling and would address the primary care crisis by “scaling up” urgent primary care centres, turning them into community health centres with family physicians, social workers, nurse practitioners and mental health professionals working as a team.

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There should be a focus on funding Indigenous-led and culturally safe primary care services in urban, rural, and remote communities, Appadurai said. Remote communities in B.C.’s Interior and North have long complained that they receive sub-par health services as they grapple with closing emergency rooms, unstaffed ambulances and burned-out health-care workers.

To address the toxic drug supply crisis that continues to claim the lives of an average of six people every day, Appadurai said she would immediately implement a safe supply program to ensure people who use substances can get regulated drugs such as fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines.

Since September 2020, nurses have had the ability to prescribe a safe supply of drugs, but critics say the government’s program is plagued with problems that severely limits how many people can actually access safer drugs.

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Appadurai, who calls herself a “lifelong New Democrat,” has yet to be confirmed as a candidate by the B.C. NDP, which is carrying out an investigation into fraudulent member signups amid allegations that B.C. Green party members are also joining the party to vote for Appadurai. The party has said it will decide on whether to approve her candidacy on Oct. 19.

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