Hospital and health-care staff returned to work Tuesday after the Alberta Labour Relations Board ruled they acted illegally when walking off the job to protest recent cuts.
In a decision issued late Monday, the board ruled the workers’ refusal to work amounted to an illegal strike under the province’s Labour Relations Code, and they must return to work according to their scheduled shifts.
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents the workers, said it directed its members to obey the labour board’s directive.
“We are following the cease and desist order that came down late last night,” Susan Slade, vice-president of the AUPE, said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a hard day.”
The AUPE represents about 58,000 health-care workers, although it wasn’t clear how many walked off the job.
Picketing took place outside the Royal Alexandra Hospital and University of Alberta in Edmonton, Foothills Hospital and the South Health Campus in Calgary, as well as at many other facilities across the province.
Earlier this month, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the United Conservative government would be cutting up to 11,000 health jobs to save money during the pandemic, but he said nurses and front-line clinical staff would not be affected.
Slade said there is “a lot of anger” among members who feel their concerns about moving jobs to the private sector were not heard.
“Nobody would listen. AHS and the government went and used fear tactics and intimidation instead of actually listening to the employees and listening to what their concerns are,” she said.
“It’s about Albertans too. Privatization doesn’t work. We need a strong health-care system. We know that. We had amazing public support yesterday — people were dropping things off, they were honking horns.”
Finance Minister Travis Toews stressed that 99 per cent of unionized employees showed up for their shifts as scheduled on Monday, but added AHS is conducting a review of what took place and employees who took part “in the illegal action” will be held accountable.
“Those repercussions can range from suspensions to fines to even termination,” he said.
Toews said union leaders will also be looked at.
“There was a high degree of possibility that union leaders were instrumental in the activities yesterday. The labour relations board will be conducting a review to understand the impact that union leaders had on the illegal walkout action.”
Slade stressed that the job action was not taken lightly, but added members will continue to push against privatization of the health-care system.
“Nobody took this lightly. Nobody just said, ‘We’re just going to do this so we can totally destroy one day of the health-care system.’ That’s not taken lightly — it never has been, never will be. The simple fact is, though, at some point in our lives we have to stand up for what we believe in and yesterday was a day where people stood up for what they believed in.”
With files from Caley Ramsay, Global News.