Friends of Medicare calls the Alberta government’s plan to cut nurses salaries at the tail end of the pandemic an “attack” on front-line workers.
“Albertans know that nurses were essential in getting us through COVID-19,” says Sandra Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare.
“They went above and beyond during the worst of the pandemic, and they literally put their own lives at risk to save the lives of countless Albertans.
“But now that we’re finally seeing this pandemic ease up, the government has decided to repay nurses’ sacrifice by wasting no time in slashing their wages. It’s shameful,” Azocar added.
The Alberta government commends nurses for their pandemic efforts, but wants to cut their salaries to bring them in line with their counterparts in other provinces.
Finance minister Travis Toews said Tuesday evening Alberta nurses make 5.6 per cent more on average that in comparative provinces and this costs Alberta about $141 million per year when provincial finances are already stretched.
Toews announced that the government favours a three per cent salary rollback for nurses, in addition to previously announced reductions for shift and weekend premiums.
But Friends of Medicare stated Alberta’s nurses are facing at least a five per cent loss in total compensation, including cuts to shift differentials and premiums.
“What Alberta needs most in this challenging time is a resilient workforce that can see our health care system through the work that lays ahead. Instead, this government is attacking frontline workers that our province relies on,” said Azocar.
“Cuts in the name of austerity will do nothing to balance the budget, but will put the health and well-being of countless patients at risk.”
In a statement issued Wednesday on Alberta Health Services (AHS) bargaining with the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), Toews said, “we need to continue the important work of getting the province’s finances back on track.”
Bringing nursing salaries in line with other large provinces “does not diminish our deep respect for the exceptional work and dedication of public sector workers,” he added. “It is simply reflective of our fiscal reality, and one that many sectors in the province have experienced.”
Toews noted AHS is offering nurses job security, despite record unemployment in the province due to the pandemic.
According to the minister, about $5.1 billion was spent in response to COVID-19 and to support the Alberta Recovery Plan. “This is above and beyond the $23 billion health expense in Budget 2021 – the largest single-year investment in health care in Alberta’s history.
“Alberta can no longer afford to be an outlier,” he continued. “We are hopeful that AHS and UNA will bargain in good faith to ensure health care workers are treated fairly, while being respectful of the province’s fiscal reality.