As part of collective bargaining, Alberta Health Services is offering pay cuts of up to nearly 11% for some health care workers.
The Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) says AHS has made an initial proposal to cut salaries for approximately 57% of HSAA members working for AHS, ranging from 0, 28% to 10.93%, depending on the profession.
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An email sent to Global News by an HSAA member explains AHS’ position on rollbacks.
“The range assumes that the occupations targeted for rollbacks receive ‘above market’ compensation. The market you are being compared to is ‘Ontario West,'” the email reads. “(U)chant the same numbers, you can clearly see that Albertans in ALL industries are paid an average of 14% more than their provincial counterparts.”
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HSAA says AHS is also proposing to cut the flexible spending account by 60%.
“Let’s be very clear: we rejected these proposals outright,” the email said.
“Not only are they insulting, given the extra effort we have made in recent years, but also out of principle. Distinguishing disciplines for variable backtracking is an attack on our solidarity. It’s supposed to drive wedges between us.
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Several advocacy groups are sounding the alarm after the email was shared online.
Public interest Alberta (PIA) and Friends of Medicare issued press releases on Monday, indicating that AHS’s initial salary proposals included reductions for the following frontline health care workers:
Pharmacy Technician – 10.93%
Social worker – 10.90%
Speech therapist – 8.69%
Respiratory therapist – 8.05%
Health Information Management Professional – 7.49%
Occupational therapist – 5.39%
Pharmacist – 5.10%
Therapeutic Assistant – 2.35%
Physiotherapist – 2.33%
Diagnostic Sonographer – 1.87%
Dietitian – 0.88%
Advanced Care Paramedic – 0.28%
PIA said the proposed cuts are another example of the UCP government’s “disrespect for frontline workers”.
“Frontline health care workers have given their all over the past two years to ensure Albertans are cared for during this pandemic,” said Bradley Lafortune, CEO of PIA.
“Now the UCP is offering pay cuts of up to 10.93% for these same workers. It’s a slap in the face for the professionals – mostly women – who have sacrificed so much during this pandemic.
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The Prime Minister was asked about the negotiations at an independent press conference on Tuesday.
“There are no pay cuts. There are negotiations under a new collective agreement with certain unions,” Jason Kenney said. “To date, we have successfully concluded negotiations with a a number of health care unions, for example the Alberta Nurses Union, have ratified — by, I think, an 87% vote — a fair collective agreement that respects both provincial tax limits, taxpayers, but also recognizes the need to provide generous and adequate compensation to nurses.
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“When these negotiations started, these two parties – Alberta Health Services and the unions – were very far apart. What usually happens in these negotiations – if they happen in good faith – both parties try to find an acceptable agreement.
“My understanding is that this particular union is indeed looking for a 15% raise over a few years. This is completely beyond the reach of what other unions have asked for or obtained in collective agreements.
“Both sides have their opening positions and beyond that I will not comment as it is up to the negotiations to do their job in good faith,” Kenney said.
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PIA points out that these proposed cuts come shortly after the government projected a surplus of more than $500 million.
PIA is asking the province and AHS to withdraw its proposals “and to negotiate in good faith.” The group wants to see wage proposals consistent with what has been offered to registered nurses: wage increases of 4.25% over the term of the agreement, improved mental health supports and the implementation of a investment for rural capacities.
“All of our healthcare heroes deserve our praise and support after two long years, but the Kenney government seems to be playing favorites,” Lafortune said.
“It’s always slash and burn with this UCP government, without ever investing or strengthening. Now more than ever, we must rebuild Alberta’s future with a focus on our healthcare heroes and the other frontline workers we have relied on to carry us through.
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- Link wages to inflation
- Salary increase of 1.5% for 2020 plus 1% in each of the next three years
- One-time payment of 1% of base rate of pay for all paid hours between January 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021 (similar to what nurses received)
- Discipline-specific salary adjustments
The HSAA said AHS is offering 30 concessions, including reduced hours between shifts (from 15 to 12 hours), reduced vacation differentials and the extension of temporary assignments from 12 to 24 months. The HSAA “categorically rejected” all concessions.
The HSAA made 24 proposals “regarding occupational health, safety and welfare, job security and employee benefits.” The association’s email indicates that the employer has started talking about each of them.
Both parties return to the bargaining table on March 29 and 30.
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The opposition said the proposed rollbacks are “a brutal insult” to healthcare workers like social workers, pharmacy technicians and respiratory therapists who have put themselves at risk to help others.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley introduced the proposal during question period on Monday.
“What is the UCP’s thanks to these workers? Salary cuts and cuts,” she said.
Health Minister Jason Copping responded by thanking healthcare workers for their tremendous efforts.
“AHS and HSAA are in the negotiation phase. The current deal expired on March 31, 2020 and they started negotiating last October after a mutually agreed suspension,” he said. “Both sides recently filed opening positions. The employer filed a set of specific offers based on its analysis of the terms, as did the union. It’s bargaining.”
In a statement to Global News, an AHS spokesperson said, “The negotiation process is taking time and we will not know the outcome of the negotiation for some time. AHS respects the negotiation process and will not negotiate in public or share details of the negotiation while it is in progress.
“Any guesswork would be inappropriate and premature at this time.”
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Friends of Medicare call the proposed pay cuts “shameful”.
“Albertans know that our healthcare workers have gone above and beyond to help us through this pandemic,” said Chris Gallaway, executive director of Friends of Medicare. “HSAA members literally put their own lives on the line to save the lives of countless Albertans. Now the UCP government has decided to repay this sacrifice by attempting to cut their salaries.
The group said Alberta’s health system is still experiencing EMS red flags, staffing shortages and employee retention issues.
“It’s clear that what Alberta needs most in these difficult times is a skilled workforce that is supported to see our health care system through the work ahead of us,” said said Gallaway.
The HSAA union represents more than 27,000 technical, professional and general support paramedic workers in Alberta’s public and private health care sectors.