Health Care Unions Condemn Privatization and Mass Layoffs

Unions representing health care workers in Alberta strongly condemned the United Conservative Party's (UCP) announcement that it would proceed with privatization of medical labs, laundry, housekeeping and food services in health care facilities and continue to reduce the number of nurses in Alberta hospitals.

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE)

At a media conference immediately following Shandro's press conference, AUPE President Guy Smith said AUPE members will take whatever action is necessary to stop the cuts which include 9,700 jobs of AUPE members providing laundry, housekeeping and food services.

"Today [Tuesday, October 13], Health Minister Shandro confirmed his duplicitous plans to cut more jobs after promising to create more. The UCP is downgrading Alberta's public health care system by forcing already over-worked staff to do more with less. The job cuts for nursing care staff and doctors, and the mass privatization ploy, are all recommendations from the government's $2-million Ernst & Young report, which it commissioned back in 2019 to help them find ways to cut corners in AHS [Alberta Health Services].

"Now that we know exactly what the damage is, we can keep prepping ourselves for the biggest fight of our lives," says Smith. "Our AHS members are already fighting for strong contract language to stop the sell-off of housekeeping, food services and laundry jobs. We plan on winning this protection, but if we do not, strike action is on the table."

While the Jason Kenney government promised to create jobs in Alberta, Smith says it's actually "a job-destroying government. This brutal attack on jobs is going to hurt working Albertans and small communities across the province. This government kicks Albertans when they're down, exploiting a pandemic that they're failing to manage by killing jobs and endangering health care at the exact moment we need it most."

Smith adds: "It's disingenuous for the Minister to say privatization won't result in 'net reductions' and only a 'change of employer,' because we know the first thing private and for-profit companies do when they snatch up our jobs is cut wages, pensions and benefits for hardworking staff. And everyday Albertans are the ones who pay the price -- the patients, seniors and people with disabilities who are at the receiving end of a downgraded service."

Private companies will often resort to layoffs early in their contracts with government to boost their bottom line. Staff end up working short, run off their feet by demanding bosses who go after our first line of defence: union protections.

Rotting food, dirty linens, viral outbreaks, dangerous lab mix-ups: all are cited as a result of privatization in general support services across the globe. The media has also already confirmed Alberta patients will be paying more out-of-pocket for items like crutches and casts.

"There are no 'savings' in this botched plan," says Smith. "All I see are businesses profiting off the pain of patients and care-centre residents."

AUPE's licensed practical nurses and health care aides will also be impacted by Shandro's attack on the public care system, after he confirmed over 800 clinical AHS jobs will be eliminated through attrition, meaning even more short-staffed floors and longer wait times in the near future, AUPE said.

"Is this really how the UCP are repaying frontline health care workers after they risked their health and well-being to care for us through this pandemic, when we need them most?" adds Smith. "This is pathetic, and we're not going to let it happen."

Health Sciences Association of Alberta

"This government has decided to tear apart its best line of defence against the ongoing pandemic. To be clear, this is about privatizing health care. Money isn't being saved; it's being transferred to private pockets instead of being used for patient care," Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) President Mike Parker said.

"Privatization costs more and could very easily result in poorer health outcomes during this pandemic and the next one. Just days after again praising the work done by our lab professionals, the current Health Minister has targeted the very people he claims are protecting Albertans in his misguided drive to privatize health care. Support workers are clearly frontline workers. It takes a team to make health care happen. Docs and other health care professionals cannot do their work in dirty facilities or in unsanitary conditions.

"The Health Minister's announcement today is shameful. He has abdicated all responsibility for the health and safety of Albertans. He has instead decided his role is to fire highly-trained public health professionals in order to facilitate the transfer of our public health resources into private hands.

"These 'positions' represent thousands of Albertans who will be added to the list of the unemployed. That's thousands upon thousands who will no longer be contributing to our economy. And that's thousands and thousands who will no longer be there to 'protect' Albertans."

United Nurses of Alberta (UNA)

The Alberta government is once against throwing health care in Alberta into chaos, right in the middle of the largest health care emergency in a century, UNA Labour Relations Director David Harrigan said, calling the action dangerous and irresponsible.

"This morning's promise by Health Minister Tyler Shandro that there will be no layoffs of frontline nurses when it lays off 11,000 health care employees contradicts statements by Alberta Health Services in a letter received this morning [October 13]," said UNA Labour Relations Director David Harrigan. The letter from AHS stated clearly that it plans to proceed with its previously announced layoff of 500 nursing full-time equivalents, which UNA calculates will put 750 nurses out of work.

Shandro was careful to say that there would be no layoffs during the pandemic, Harrigan said.
"There is nothing to prevent this government from prematurely declaring the pandemic to be over whenever it pleases, so this is a relatively meaningless promise," Harrigan said. Moreover, he noted, Shandro referred several times to eliminating nursing positions through attrition, so nursing positions will continue to be lost.

Last week, Harrigan added, AHS responded to UNA's request for clarification about the Ernst & Young report by saying that AHS was continuing to work with the Health Ministry on implementation of the Ernst & Young report's recommendations for changes to AHS operations and that no response from the government was expected until later in the fall. "So it sounds like they came up with a 79-page implementation plan over the long weekend," he said.

"Stability in the midst of a pandemic won't be achieved by short-staffed hospitals and burnt out health care workers," Harrigan concluded, noting that positions are already silently disappearing in the midst of the pandemic, and have been for months, leaving nurses short staffed and overworked and patient safety compromised.

This article was published in

Number 70 - October 15, 2020

Article Link:
Health Care Unions Condemn Privatization and Mass Layoffs


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