Alberta health minister to plan meeting with HSAA after union criticizes lack of contact

Click to play video: 'Unions prepare for fight against healthcare job cuts in Alberta'
Unions prepare for fight against healthcare job cuts in Alberta
WATCH ABOVE: (From Dec. 2, 2019) At least one healthcare union is threatening job action as the provincial government and Alberta Health Services both move to eliminate thousands of jobs. As Tom Vernon explains, the NDP also says the UCP are breaking a key campaign promise. – Dec 2, 2019

Hours after the union took to social media to call the province’s health minister out for refusing to meet with them, a spokesperson for Tyler Shandro said his team will reach out to the Health Sciences Association of Alberta to schedule a meeting.

On Tuesday, the HSAA tweeted a message criticizing Shandro for being “on Twitter, boasting about all the meetings he has been having with frontline workers.”

“We have been trying to meet with you since you were sworn in (251 days ago now) and have been repeatedly denied,” the union tweeted.

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When asked for comment, the health minster’s press secretary, Steve Buick, told Global News that Shandro made clear in a letter to the HSAA last month that “he could not meet to discuss ongoing labour talks.”

“Given that HSAA has since advised that they will not attempt to discuss current ongoing collective bargaining matters, the minister will happily meet with them,” Buick wrote.

“The minister’s staff will contact HSAA to schedule a meeting.”

Shandro later tweeted that he had agreed to meet with the HSAA and again indicated that he was doing so because the union agreed to his condition that issues to be dealt with through collective bargaining negotiations are not raised.

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HSAA president Mike Parker told Global News on Monday night that he felt “insulted” after learning of Shandro’s tweet.

“I don’t consider using Twitter a form of booking meetings,” Parker told Global News. “[It’s] embarrassing actually.

“We weren’t going to negotiate with him anyway. He is not our employer. The employer of the people we represent, the 27,000 members on the frontlines, do not negotiate with the government, they negotiate with the employers,” Parker added.

“So for him to say we agree to those terms… don’t insult our intelligence.”

Earlier in the day, Opposition Leader Rachel Notley weighed in on the HSAA’s tweet, tweeting that she believes “it’s cowardly and shameful for the health minister to brush off the thousands of front-line health workers being laid off.”

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Opposition health critic David Shepherd also spoke out on social media about the tweet on Tuesday, saying “you can’t build a better health-care system for Albertans by excluding and attacking the democratically elected representatives of the workers who deliver frontline care.”

Last month, Parker said letters sent to unions by the government in the fall, which several unions said had them bracing for potential layoffs, had come without consultation.

“They have not spoken to those who are the health-care experts that work on the frontlines,” he said at the time.

READ MORE: Edmontonians attend ‘Resistance Town Hall’ amid fears of major cuts to Alberta’s public sector workforce

Parker said Tuesday that he wants to meet with Shandro to discuss what he referred to as “a lot of unknowns right now.”

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“[The government has] made innuendos and minimal statements that say, ‘We are considering privatization of our lab workers and of our paramedics on the frontlines of this province,'” he said. “We’re talking about over 5,000 frontline workers that they are musing about privatizing. I’d like to hear what that exactly means.

“When they’re buying ambulances and syringes, they cost the same whether they’re public or private. The only cost savings is on the backs of the frontline.”

Tuesday’s tweet by the HSAA came as the government eyes potentially significant changes to the health-care system this year. Later this month, a report will be released that Shandro has characterized as a sort of blueprint for change in the system.

“We committed to getting wait times down, so now we’ve got to figure out a way to do it. That’s going to be the No. 1 thing,” Shandro told The Canadian Press in a year-end interview last month.

The report, by Ernst & Young, has been reviewing the operations of Alberta Health Services, which is the day-to-day service delivery component of Shandro’s health department.

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READ MORE: Alberta government eyeing ‘significant changes’ to health care system in 2020

The review is expected to look at roles and responsibilities, come up with cost efficiencies, reinvest savings and review the relationship with private facilities contracted out to do work paid for by the public system.

Parker said Tuesday that he has concerns about the process through which the report is being put together.

“This consultation group spent exactly one hour discussing emergency services in this province with those on the frontlines — one hour,” he said.

“This is an ideological process and they are just putting the lipstick on it so that they can somehow justify privatizing and moving our health-care system into a for-profit industry.”

READ MORE: Alberta Health Services cutting hundreds of nursing positions: UNA and NDP

In November, the HSAA, which represents paramedical, technical and other health-care professionals, said it had been notified by Alberta Precision Labs, a wholly-owned subsidiary of AHS, that it is “seeking interest from private third-parties to take over parts of lab services in Alberta.”

–With files from The Canadian Press’ Dean Bennett and Global News’ Emily Mertz


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