Front-line hospital workers across the province walked off the job Monday to protest recent health-care cuts by the United Conservative government, says the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.
Guy Smith, president of the union, says in a news release that members are trying to defend jobs and protect the public health-care system.
“Anger has been building among members for months,” said Smith. “The recent announcement by Health Minister Tyler Shandro of 11,000 jobs being cut in the middle of a global deadly pandemic was the last straw for them.”
Earlier this month, Shandro announced the government would be cutting up to 11,000 health jobs to save money during the pandemic, but he said nurses and front-line workers would not be affected. Some of the cuts are to come from further contracting out of laundry and lab services.
Shandro’s office declined to comment on the walkouts, suggesting Finance Minister Travis Toews and Alberta Health Services would provide more information. Toews office did not immediately responded, but AHS said in a statement that it is responding quickly to the “illegal” strike action.
“We are doing all we can to address any interruptions to patient care caused by this illegal job action,” said the statement. “Our focus is on ensuring patients continue to receive the care and treatment they need.
“AHS is enacting contingency plans to redeploy non-union staff, including managers, wherever possible to cover for missing staff. AHS is monitoring the situation closely to try to mitigate patient care interruptions.”
The statement said some surgeries and ambulatory care clinics are being postponed due to the strike.
“Patients will be contacted directly if their appointments are affected. Visitors may be limited at some sites depending on the level of strike action.”
Officials said they have reached out to staff to ask them to return to work and end the illegal strike.
“AHS has made an application to the Labour Relations Board today to formally ask the board to direct the affected employees back to work.”
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the “wildcat strikes” across Alberta are deeply concerning.
“Like all Albertans, our caucus believes patient safety must always be the top priority,” she said in a statement.
Notley said the United Conservative government’s proposal to privatize the work of 11,000 front-line workers in the middle of a pandemic will result in poorer care for Albertans.
“For the sake of Alberta patients and the people who care about them, this reckless plan must stop,” she said.
Smith said nursing care and support workers decided Monday there was no other option than a walkout to back their position.
“By constantly short-staffing public health care, this government is pushing our members to the breaking point exactly when Albertans need them most,” he said.
The union represents about 58,000 health-care workers, although it wasn’t immediately clear how many have walked off the job. There were reports of picketing outside the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, Foothills Hospital and the South Health Campus in Calgary, as well as at several other sites.
“For the sake of Alberta patients and the people who care about them, this reckless plan must stop.”
Smith said the workers are committed to making sure patients remain safe during any labour dispute.
The Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents 27,000 health care professionals across the province, said in a statement its members will respect picket lines and won’t do the work of other union members.
“HSAA supports AUPE workers who are standing up against (Premier Jason) Kenney’s health-care cuts that were heartlessly announced in the middle of a pandemic,” said Mike Parker, president of the association.
“Health-care workers have been working tirelessly to keep Albertans safe and they have been rewarded with threats to their jobs by a government that is hell-bent on ripping apart our public health-care system. The blame for any disruption to patient care that may occur today needs to land squarely at the feet of Jason Kenney and the UCP.”
The Alberta Federation of Labour and its affiliated unions said they will also join picket lines across the province to show their support for striking front-line health-care workers.
The workers have also received the support of Friends of Medicare.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 26, 2020.