Alberta’s doctors have rejected a proposed new master agreement aimed at resolving a year’s worth of acrimony over pay and working conditions with the provincial government. (The Canadian Press)

Alberta’s doctors have rejected a proposed new master agreement aimed at resolving a year’s worth of acrimony over pay and working conditions with the provincial government. (The Canadian Press)

Alberta physicians reject new master agreement with provincial government

Alberta physicians reject new master agreement with provincial government

EDMONTON — Alberta’s doctors have rejected a proposed new master agreement aimed at resolving a year’s worth of acrimony over pay and working conditions with the provincial government.

“After months of negotiations with the Alberta Medical Association, the vote to ratify a tentative agreement was ultimately unsuccessful,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said in a statement issued late Tuesday night.

“While this result is disappointing, it does not erase the meaningful collaboration and mutual understanding that was gained throughout this process.

“The momentum gained over the past few months will not be lost. Our government will seek to further renew our relationship with the AMA in the weeks and months to come as we work together to ensure Albertans continue to benefit from quality health care.”

The AMA represents 11,000 physicians. They had been voting for weeks on whether to ratify. A simple majority was required to pass.

Officials with the association could not immediately be reached for comment.

The two sides have been at loggerheads since early 2020 after Shandro unilaterally cancelled the master agreement with the association and implemented new fees that doctors called heavy-handed, unfair, and liable to force some family practices to close.

In response, doctors began withdrawing services, the association sued the province, and the two sides swapped angry attacks on social media – all occurring as COVID-19 swept through the province.

The two sides eventually returned to the table and hammered out a tentative agreement that was presented to rank and file members on Feb. 26 to vote on.

At the time, Shandro and AMA President Dr. PaulBoucher said the deal provided a chance for a reset after a tumultuous year.

Details of the agreement have not been made public. Each side said they didn’t want to influence doctors during the vote.

However, some details of the deal obtained by The Canadian Press specify that the collective baseline pay for doctors would remain static at about $4.6 billion a year over the four years of the deal.

It would be retroactive to 2020 and subject to spending needed to speed up surgeries to reduce wait times.

Last month, the province introduced a budget that set physician compensation at $5.4 billion for the upcoming year, rising to $5.5 billion by 2024.

The proposal does not make any reference to doctors being able to have access to third-party arbitration. It would give the medical association the right to invoke non-binding mediation on key issues. But if that didn’t work, the document suggests the government would have final say.

Arbitration was cancelled by the province when it threw out the master agreement last year. The AMA has previously cited arbitration as critical given that, for ethical reasons, doctors can’t walk off the job to gain leverage at the bargaining table.

The AMA’s lawsuit accuses the government of breaching collective bargaining rights and negotiating in bad faith.

Shandro has said fundamental changes to physician pay and work arrangements are needed to keep health care viable in the long term.

As voting wound down in the last two weeks, Shandro extended numerous olive branches to the doctors, including a promise to never resurrect hotly contested changes to patient billing rules, called complex modifiers.

Shandro also issued a public letter to all doctors saying he regretted downplaying their frustrations and anger over the dispute and hoped to move forward together in a spirit of reconciliation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 3021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Doctors

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