More than a dozen protesters took to the street outside the QEII Hospital in Grande Prairie Monday to voice their concerns over ongoing layoffs being made within Alberta’s health care system. The latest is the provincial government’s plan to lay off upwards of 11,000 more Alberta Health Services positions and transition them into the private sector.
Thomas Berry, a nurse at the QEII Hhospital, says Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and United Nurses of Alberta members don’t want to stand by and suffer more layoffs to public health care.
“AUPE said enough is enough. We’re walking and, as part of UNA, we’re out here to support our brothers and sisters who are fighting to keep their jobs,” he says.
The layoff plan from the government was announced on October 13th by Minister of Health Tyler Shandro. It aims to cut positions in food services, laundry, housekeeping, lab work, and more.
The announcement of cuts to Alberta Health Services came four days after a statement from Minister of Finance Travis Toews, confirming the Health Sciences Association of Alberta agreed to extend the delay in negotiating a new contract until March 31, 2021, in exchange for job security. On October 8th, a similar statement was made from Minister Toews, expressing disappointment the UNA had refused the same proposal.
Berry says he believes there has to be a better solution to cutting provincial costs and saving money than laying off public health care workers.
“We all know and recognize the province is in a bad financial spot and they want to save money, but there [are] better ways to do it than hacking and slashing and putting Albertans at risk.”
“How would you feel if you were told, ‘we appreciate you through a pandemic, we appreciate everything you’re doing but now you’re going to lose your job, have a good day,” he adds.
Alberta Health Services released a statement Monday, addressing the strike as illegal job action. AHS says non-union staff, including managers, are being deployed wherever possible to mitigate patient care interruptions.
AHS adds some surgeries and ambulatory care is being postponed, and patients are being contacted if their appointments have been affected.
Toews followed suit later Monday morning, condemning the strike action and calling for those involved to be held accountable.
“Alberta Health Services is taking immediate action with the Alberta Labour Relations Board to end this illegal activity,’ he says. “My expectation is that all unions respect the bargaining process, stop putting Albertans’ safety at risk and abide by the law.”
Toews notes Alberta spends 42 per cent of its budget on health, an increase, he says, of 17 per cent since 2015. Health spending is expected to be $20.9 billion this year, not including a total $769 million set aside for COVID-19.