Protestors were vocal on Monday standing united as notice was given that thousands of health care jobs in the province could be lost in the coming years.
Two dozen frontline services workers in the health care field picketed outside the Elk Point hospital on Monday protesting coming job losses the AUPE says are indicated by the UCP government.
Workers from Elk Point, St. Paul, and Cold Lake rallied in light of recent news that 3000-8000 job losses could be on the horizon in health care positions in the lead up to negotiations.
The Alberta Union of Province Employees, Health Sciences Association of Alberta and United Nurses of Alberta said they received notice before wage arbitration from the Alberta government that it intends to change and contract out services that would result in the loss of an estimated 6,400 to 7,400 unionized public-sector jobs by 2023.
That includes 500 nursing positions lost by attrition, claims the United Nurses of Alberta, and 400 auxiliary nurse positions.
“No respect for collective bargaining”
Val Whelen, Alberta Union of Province Employees, chair for northeast Alberta was one of the protesters leading the charge on Monday with workers coming from St. Paul and Cold Lake.
Whelen is a health-care worker in Lac La Biche and said the UCP government pushes through legislation like Bill 9. The bill delayed arbitration talks for roughly 65,000 AUPE members earlier this year.
“I think that we just want to show that together we can all stand strong against the repeated attacks that are coming after us. When Bill 9 first came out, it showed that there was no respect for our collective bargaining. We all had settled for zeros and with the option of going in for a wage reopener. Well, right away our collective agreements were being attacked,” she said.
Jillian, a registered nurse from St. Paul, said hospitals in the area are already short-staffed and this won’t help.
“We’re already working to the limits of our means right now as far as nursing goes. Right now, there are unfilled positions that we can’t find nurses to fill,” she said.
“It’s not about the money. It’s about being supported equally and fairly so that we can provide the best quality health care that we can.”
‘We’re in this together’
Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson said that the UCP committed an additional $200 million to the health care budget.
“The only people that are talking about layoffs are the unions and the only ones bargaining in bad faith at the moment are the unions that are trying to get people riled up before the negotiations even start,” he said.
“When the unions come out with statements and claims that they’re going to fight for a huge increase as well, Alberta is in a recession and I would say that’s part of the problem.”
“We’re all in this together as Albertans private sector, public sector. We need to get our province turned around and we need everybody’s help.”
Whelen said other protests have happened in the area and they are meant to keep people aware of the impacts facing the health care sector.
The AUPE website says they are preparing a fight for public services, wages, and rights.
Belt-tightening for everyone?
Opposition leader Rachel Notley has called for an emergency debate to discuss in the Legislature, accusing Premier Jason Kenney of breaking a promise to Albertans.
Kenney said that health care spending increased by one per cent.
The province’s MacKinnon Report recommended finding efficiencies in the health care sector and keeping per-capita spending in line with British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec as part of its four health-related recommendations.
As the economy continues to be a major concern for rural Alberta and the Lakeland, Whelen said she’s aware of the pains oilfield workers have gone through, but cuts to the public sector won’t put them back to work.
“The oilfield was already slow before even the NDP came in, and somehow it can’t be our fault. The budget can’t be balanced on the back of the public workers. The big cuts were given to the big corporations and then they’re leaving the province anyway so I guess it doesn’t help to give them tax cuts,” she said.
“Our healthcare is just really going to deteriorate if we don’t have enough people in there to do quality health care.”