In the News
Alberta Workers Oppose Government Violation of Rights
Workers and Unions Condemn
Egregious Alberta Order
The egregious order issued by the Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) of Alberta on January 3 has been condemned by workers and their unions, as well as by experts in health care. A second order issued January 10, CMOH 02-2022, did nothing to address these concerns.
United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith said the possibility of forcing sick health care workers to care for patients is “terrifying.”
“I don’t think it’s going to create safer workplaces. In fact, I think it increases jeopardy in workplaces, for the workers and the public,” she said. She noted that the order may also deter sick people from going to hospital.
“There’s almost this fairy tale that Omicron isn’t as dangerous. For a certain percentage of people, it will be as dangerous and detrimental as the original COVID strain. There’s a critical mass of people who are going to get ill, and we don’t need further depletion of our health workforce because of unnecessary and preventable exposures by reducing our level of acceptable isolation standards,” Smith said.
Speaking at an emergency podcast organized by the group PoPAB (Protect Our Province Alberta), physicians pointed out that the government has basically abandoned efforts to contain Omicron. Public health considerations are now solely based on keeping businesses open, with measures that may well have the opposite effect, they said.
“This order is unique in its stupidity, and unique in terms of its just sheer disregard for workers’ rights,” said Ubaka Ogbogu, an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law and the Katz Research Fellow in Health Law and Science Policy, at the University of Alberta.
On January 11, nine unions and the Alberta Federation of Labour issued a joint statement calling for immediate circuit-breaker and concrete measures to deal with Omicron. These measures are being proposed at a time when the Alberta government has abandoned almost all public health measures. With its morbid preoccupation with defeat, the government appears to have decided to “let it rip” based on three false claims about Omicron — that it is mild, that it is inevitable that everyone will be infected, and that this will somehow lead to “herd immunity” and the end of the pandemic.
“We make this call reluctantly and with great frustration, but believe we have been left with no alternatives because the pandemic in Alberta is out of control; workplaces and schools are unsafe; and our health care system and our health care workers are already being overwhelmed,” the statement said.
The letter was signed by the presidents of the Alberta Federation of Labour, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), Alberta Teachers Association (ATA), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401, Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Alberta Division, University of Alberta Non-Academic Staff Association (NASA), Alberta College and Institutes Faculty Association (ACIFA) and the Western Regional Director of Unifor.
The unions argue that public health measures are necessary and effective, and that vaccines alone are not sufficient protection.
The recent government announcement that it would no longer report outbreaks at workplaces except in health care settings followed reports that significant outbreaks including those at the CNRL oilsands camps and at hotels in Banff National Park were not included in the Alberta government’s reports. The Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) also announced, with no consultation with the unions, that the single-site protocols limiting health care workers to one workplace would be ended by the government, violating all previous agreements.
(Workers’ Forum, posted January 21, 2022)