EDMONTON - Negotiations for a new contract between Alberta's nurses and their employer are off to a rocky start.

The nurses union says in a release that the opening proposal from Alberta Health Services asks for cuts in salaries, benefits, safe-care provisions and scheduling protections. Heather Smith, president of the United Nurses of Alberta, says many of the rollbacks would erode standards of care, safety in the workplace and job security.

Smith says the union is looking for more resources to fix a strained health-care system, and is seeking wage increases of four per cent.

The talks cover more than 24,000 registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses, including all those under Alberta Health Services and Covenant Health.

The last contract included a five per cent salary increase in each year of a three-year term.

Alberta Health Services says its proposal is "fair and competitive" and "recognizes the fiscal realities of the health system."

"Our goal is to keep the nurses we have working and to ensure that those nurses are able to spend more time with patients," Andrea Robertson, senior vice-president and chief nursing officer, Nursing Strategies, said in a news release Tuesday.

Shannon Larkins, spokesperson for AHS, said talks have just started and they won't negotiate in the media.

The collective agreement with UNA expires March 31.