About 100 nurses and supporters turned out for the information picket organized by the United Nurses of Alberta outside Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre on Wednesday. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)

Government could force Alberta nurses to work overtime to handle COVID cases

EDMONTON — Alberta nurses have been told they could soon be forced to work mandatory overtime and have their holidays cancelled in response to increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations and staffing shortages.

In a Friday email, Alberta Health Services told the United Nurses of Alberta that emergency system demand was high across the province, especially in the Edmonton and South health zones.

The email invokes emergency provisions of the contract, which allows the government to require overtime and cancel holidays.

But union spokesman David Harrigan says those provisions are only supposed to apply to unforeseen situations.

Harrigan says the current spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations was anticipated by most public health experts and the government should have planned for it.

The union leader said nurses are exhausted and increasingly frustrated.