Striking academics from the University of Manitoba college of nursing say training the next batch of health-care providers is becoming more difficult as wages and employment conditions drive colleagues away from teaching.
On Tuesday, the U of M Faculty Association put its focus on the challenges of retaining and recruiting staff and the ripple effects through the province’s health-care system.
“There is a critical nursing shortage, not just of front-line nurses, but also of nursing educators, nursing faculty members, so to recruit them here is going to take competitive salary offers,” said UMFA president Orvie Dingwall, as members rallied outside of the Manitoba legislature.
The faculty association has been on strike since Nov. 2, and has repeatedly raised concerns about the province issuing a wage increase mandate to the university, saying it amounts to interference in the bargaining process.
“We’re here calling on the government to have them stay out of the operations of the university,” Dingwall said.
Associate Prof. Lynda Balneaves said in the past two years about 15 per cent of her colleagues have retired or left the university for other opportunities, while those who stick around are carrying heavier workloads.
“The consequence is that we have less availability to our students,” Balneaves said. “We’re unable to focus on our research programs and it leads to, unfortunately, burnout as well, where people are considering taking leaves because they’re working 60-plus hours a week trying to keep all the balls in the air.”
Compensation is one of the main factors behind the recent departures, high staff turnover and recruitment challenges in the college, according to faculty.
Assistant professors and nursing instructors at the U of M earn less than general duty nurses, according to a letter signed by more than three dozen staff and sent Tuesday to Health Minister Audrey Gordon.
“It’s dramatically reducing our ability to recruit people into our university,” Balneaves said, adding prospective teachers can also take higher-paid positions at a number of other Canadian universities.
While walking the picket line Tuesday, instructor Katie de Leon said the ongoing labour dispute also threatens to delay the graduation of 110 nursing students this spring.
The former nurse practitioner authored the letter to Gordon and called on the minister to meet with Premier Heather Stefanson to “seek a timely resolution to the bargaining issues between UMFA and the University of Manitoba.”
“That’s really slowing down the relief that’s available to the working nurses. They’re waiting for these nurses so that they can take a break,” de Leon said.
Despite having greater earning potential as a nurse practitioner, de Leon said she returned to teaching because she knew there was a shortage of much-needed instructors.
However, the staffing crunch is expected to worsen with more retirements on the horizon and a government-mandated program expansion, which would add another 120 seats, quickly approaching, she said. It’s expected at least 15 more instructors will be needed to facilitate the expansion.
“The faculty that are on the line right now are not here just for their salary,” said de Leon. “They’re here because they’re thinking long term: how do we recruit talented faculty if we can’t pay them more than the graduates that they’re teaching?”
In a statement, a spokesman for Gordon’s office said the minister had received the letter and was reviewing it Tuesday.
“The Manitoba government is monitoring the situation, but respects that the university and UMFA are still in negotiations to explore resolution,” the statement read. “No one wants further disruption to students and families already dealing with the pandemic, and we urge both sides to continue their efforts to find common ground.”
According to the University of Manitoba, the two parties returned to mediation Nov. 4. On Monday, the faculty association presented an offer described by the Winnipeg-based school as “moving further away from agreement.”
The university said it will maintain its previous offer made Nov. 1 and negotiations continue.