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Alberta Health Services proposing wage rollbacks up to 11% for some health workers

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As part of collective bargaining negotiations, Alberta Health Services is proposing wage rollbacks up to nearly 11 per cent for some health workers.

The Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) says AHS made an opening proposal to roll back wages for about 57 per cent of HSAA members working for AHS, ranging from 0.28 per cent to 10.93 per cent, depending on profession.

Read more: Alberta health-care support staff presented with 4% wage cut: Union

An email sent to Global News by an HSAA member explains the AHS’s position on the rollbacks.

“The range assumes the professions targeted for rollbacks are receiving ‘over-market’ compensation. The market you are being compared to is ‘Ontario-West,'” the email reads. “(U)sing the same numbers, you clearly see that Albertans across ALL industries are paid on average 14 per cent more than their provincial counterparts.”

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The HSAA says AHS is also proposing to decrease the flex-spending account by 60 per cent.

“Let us be very clear: We rejected these proposals outright,” the email states.

“Not only are they insulting, considering the extra efforts we’ve given over the past few years, but also on principle. Singling out disciplines for varying rollbacks is an attack on our solidarity. It’s meant to drive wedges between us.”

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Several advocacy groups are raising alarm bells after the email was shared online.

Public Interest Alberta (PIA) and Friends of Medicare issued news releases on Monday, saying AHS’ initial wage proposals included rollbacks for the following front-line health workers:

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Pharmacy Technician – 10.93 per cent
Social Worker – 10.90 per cent
Speech Language Pathologist – 8.69 per cent
Respiratory Therapist – 8.05 per cent
Health Information Management Professional – 7.49 per cent
Occupational Therapist – 5.39 per cent
Pharmacist – 5.10 per cent
Therapy Assistant – 2.35 per cent
Physiotherapist – 2.33 per cent
Diagnostic Sonographer – 1.87 per cent
Dietitian – 0.88 per cent
Advanced Care Paramedic – 0.28 per cent

PIA said the proposed cuts are another example of the UCP government’s “disrespect for front-line workers.”

“Front-line health-care workers have given everything over the past two years to make sure Albertans are taken care of through this pandemic,” said Bradley Lafortune, executive director of PIA.

“Now the UCP is proposing wage cuts of up to 10.93 per cent for those same workers. It’s a slap in the face to the professionals — mostly women — who have sacrificed so much during this pandemic.”

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The premier was asked about the bargaining during an unrelated news conference on Tuesday.

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“There are no wage rollbacks. There are negotiations in the context of a new collective bargaining agreement with some of the unions,” Jason Kenney said. “To date, we have successfully finalized negotiations with a number of the health care unions, for example the union of nurses in Alberta ratified — by, I think, by an 87 per cent vote — a fair collective bargaining agreement which both respects the fiscal limits of the province, of taxpayers, but also recognizes the need to provide generous and adequate compensation to nurses.

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“When those negotiations started, those two sides — Alberta Health Services and the unions — were very far apart. What typically happens in these negotiations – if they’re happening in good faith – the two sides try to find an acceptable agreement.

“My understanding is that this particular union is effectively looking for a 15 per cent increase over a few years. That is completely out of the range of what other unions have asked for or received in collective bargaining agreements.

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“Both sides have their opening positions and beyond that I won’t comment because it’s up to the negotiations to do their work in good faith,” Kenney said.

Read more: Alberta nurses formally agree to new collective agreement

PIA points out these proposed cuts come shortly after the government projected a more than $500-million surplus.

PIA is calling on the province and AHS to retract its proposals “and bargain in good faith.” The group wants to see wage proposals in line with what was offered to registered nurses: 4.25 per cent pay increases over the life of the agreement, enhanced mental health supports, and implementation of a Rural Capacity Investment Fund.

“All our health-care heroes deserve our praise and support after two long years, but the Kenney government seems to be playing favourites,” said Lafortune.

“It’s always slash and burn with this UCP government, never investing and strengthening. Now more than ever, we need to rebuild Alberta’s future with a focus on our health-care heroes and other front-line workers who we leaned on to carry us through.”

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HSAA is proposing:

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  • Linking wages with inflation
  • 1.5 per cent wage increase for 2020 plus one per cent in each of the next three years
  • One-time payment of one per cent of the basic rate of pay for all paid hours between Jan. 1, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2021 (similar to what nurses received)
  • Discipline-specific wage adjustments

HSAA said AHS proposed 30 concessions, including reduced hours between shifts (from 15 to 12 hours), reduced Stat holiday differentials, and expanding temporary postings from 12 to 24 months. HSAA has “soundly rejected” all of the concessions.

HSAA has made 24 proposals “having to do with workplace health, safety and wellness, job security and benefits.” The association’s email said the employer has started to talk about each of them.

The two parties return to the bargaining table March 29 and 30.

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The Opposition said the proposed rollbacks are “a brutal insult” to health-care workers like social workers, pharmacy techs and respiratory therapists who have put themselves in harm’s way to help others.

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NDP leader Rachel Notley brought up the proposal during Question Period on Monday.

“What’s the UCP’s thank you to those workers? Wage cuts and rollbacks,” she said.

Health Minister Jason Copping responded, thanking health workers for their tremendous efforts.

“AHS and HSAA are in the stages of bargaining. The current agreement expired on March 31, 2020 and they began bargaining last October after a mutually agreed upon suspension,” he said. “The two sides tabled opening positions recently. The employer has tabled a set of specific offers based on their analysis of the conditions and so has the union. This is bargaining.”

In a statement to Global News, an AHS spokesperson said: “The bargaining process takes time, and we will not know the outcome of bargaining for some time. AHS respects the bargaining process and will not bargain in public or share details of bargaining while it is underway.

“Any conjecture would be inappropriate and premature at this time.”

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Friends of Medicare is calling the proposed wage cuts “shameful.”

“Albertans know that our health-care workers have gone above and beyond in getting us through this pandemic,” said Chris Gallaway, executive director of Friends of Medicare. “HSAA members have literally put their own lives at risk to save the lives of countless Albertans. Now the UCP government has decided to repay that sacrifice by attempting to slash their wages.”

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The group said Alberta’s health-care system is still experiencing EMS red alerts, staffing shortages and employee retention challenges.

“It’s clear that what Alberta needs most in this challenging time is a skilled workforce that is supported to see our health-care system through the work that lays ahead,” Gallaway said.

The HSAA union represents more than 27,000 paramedical technical, professional and general support employees in the public and private health-care sectors of Alberta.

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