July 23, 2009
FREDERICTON (CNB) - As part of its response to the legal application launched by the New Brunswick Medical Society, the government has proclaimed certain portions of An Act to Amend the Medical Services Payment Act (Bill 93), Acting Health Minister Jack Keir announced today.
"It is important to note that the government has not proclaimed provisions in the act that extend a government-wide, two-year wage freeze to physicians," said Keir. "This leaves the door open, as it always has been, for negotiations with the New Brunswick Medical Society."
The sections that have been proclaimed are:
4.101(1), defining the term Agreement for the purposes of the section;
4.101(6), declaring the tentative agreement of Dec. 10, 2008, to be null and void;
4.101(7), declaring any other alleged agreement negotiated to replace the Agreement to be null and void;
4.101(8), prohibiting the taking of legal action as a result of the enactment of Bill 93; and
4.101(9), declaring the effective date of these amendments to be April 1, 2008.
Keir said that act's partial proclamation was in partial response to the medical society's legal application. Keir also said that the provincial government continues to extend an open invitation to the medical society to return to the bargaining table at any time to negotiate an agreement.
"We are still hopeful that a solution might be reached with our physicians, who provide a valuable service to New Brunswickers," said Keir. "The provincial government proclaimed these specific sections of the act to ensure that the public interest is protected."
In recognition of current fiscal realities, the 2009-10 provincial budget introduced a significant program of spending restraint, including a mandatory two-year wage freeze for all government employees. Most public sector unions are working with the provincial government, and they have accepted a two-year wage freeze to take effect at the end of their existing agreements.
In addition to the measures proclaimed today, the Act to Amend the Medical Services Payment Act includes provisions to extend the wage freeze to physicians. A tentative agreement with fee-for-service physicians reached in late 2008 proposed general economic increases that, once extended to the province's salaried physicians, would have represented immediate and retroactive costs of $35.6 million in fiscal year 2009-10.
Given the increasing severity of the global recession in early 2009 and current deficit projection of $740 million, the provincial government has said it is no longer in a position to fund these additional costs in this fiscal year.
"Even with a record-high health budget of $2.3 billion, competing priorities mean that savings must be found to ensure the continued, long-term accessibility and sustainability of the public system," said Keir.
Because fee-for-service physicians have been without an agreement since April 1, 2008, only eight months would remain until their wage freeze expires.
MEDIA CONTACT: Meghan Cumby, communications, Department of Health, 506-457-3522.