After a union that represents about 30,000 nurses and other workers in the province rejected Alberta Health Services’ proposal to once again delay labour negotiations, Finance Minister Travis Toews said he hopes other unions representing health-care workers don’t follow suit.
“We’re starting to make headway in this battle with COVID-19, and I’m hopeful that other unions at AHS do not follow the lead of UNA (United Nurses of Alberta) and will agree to delay negotiations that puts the health of Albertans first,” Toews said in a news release issued Thursday night.
The news release was issued soon after the UNA posted on its website that it had rejected AHS’ suggestion of delaying the start of bargaining until June.
In November the UNA said AHS negotiators wanted to delay bargaining, a demand it said it rejected because the health authority refused to stop the elimination of nursing positions through attrition during the COVID-19 pandemic and wouldn’t promise to end rollbacks when negotiations resume.
In January, the UNA posted on its website that the negotiating committees for the union and AHS signed a memorandum of understanding on COVID-19 measures and bargaining that included agreeing to schedule no further bargaining for a new provincial collective agreement until after March 31, 2021.
“After much thought and deliberation, the negotiations committee has asked AHS to provide UNA with available dates to resume negotiations in April and May,” the union said on Thursday.
“UNA looks forward to resuming discussions with the employer in order to achieve labour peace, stabilize the Alberta workforce and focus on responding to the pandemic.”
In his statement on Thursday, Toews said he has “a great appreciation for the work of Alberta’s front-line health-care workers, and I thank them for their dedicated service throughout the ongoing pandemic.”
However, he noted he is “very disappointed the United Nurses of Alberta has refused Alberta Health Services’ offer to delay labour negotiations.”
The UNA has voiced concerns about a plan the province announced before the COVID-19 pandemic that it said would result in at least 750 nurses being laid off.
Soon after the pandemic hit Alberta, Toews and Health Minister Tyler Shandro said those plans were being put on hold indefinitely because of COVID-19.
Watch below: (From March 13, 2020) Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews and Health Minister Tyler Shandro say they will not be laying off nurses while the province is dealing with the spread of COVID-19.
In November, Toews said the nurses’ union was seeking a seven per cent pay increase for its members and noted Alberta’s nurses are compensated about 8.1 per cent more than some of their counterparts in Western Canada.
In February 2020, the UNA said it proposed two per cent wage hikes in each of the first two years along with other changes. At the time, the UNA said the government was proposing no wage increases over the next four years along with reductions to overtime, holiday and premium pay, as well as reductions in worker scheduling rights and benefits.
–With files from The Canadian Press’ Dean Bennett
Watch below: Some Global News videos about labour relations between Alberta nurses and the province.