About 100 nurses and supporters rallied outside Red Deer hospital on Wednesday afternoon as part of a province-wide protest.
Members with the United Nurses of Alberta gathered in more than 20 communities to speak out about how under staffing, closed beds, and wage rollbacks are impacting patient care in Alberta.
Last month Alberta Health Services proposed a three per cent wage rollback for nurses during contract negotiations with the union that represents about 30,000 public-sector nurses.
Susan Beatson, UNA Local 2 president, said nurses are exhausted and continue to get beat up by government cutbacks.
“We’re suffering a severe shortage. They have known about it for years. It’s unfortunate that we’ve been placed in this position during a pandemic situation to further erode the nursing staff here,” said Beatson about staffing at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre where she works.
Finance Minister Travis Toews said the province appreciates the hard work and dedication of nurses over the last 18 months, but the reality is that Alberta spends more money per person on health care than other large provinces, and it can’t continue. Reaching a new collective agreement with UNA is essential for the province.
“We are facing a $93-billion debt, and we spend more than half of the province’s operating budget on public sector compensation. We must continue to find efficiencies across the public sector – it’s an essential piece to restoring fiscal health and ensuring sustainable public services,” said Toews in a statement.
He said last week Alberta Health Services proposed informal mediation with UNA in an attempt to move towards a settlement agreement. Unfortunately, union leadership declined the offer.
“Many previous settlements have been reached in mediation. In the past 21 years, seven of the eight collective agreements between AHS and UNA have been reached with the use of a third party mediator. We are hopeful that informal mediation would allow the two parties to work collaboratively towards a deal this time as well.”
Edmonton NDP MLA Janis Irwin, who came out to the information picket in Red Deer, said she hears from health care workers all the time who are disheartened and demoralized by the UCP’s attack on them as well as the public health care system.
“It’s so important, not just people in Red Deer and central Alberta, but across the province to stand up and fight back against their repugnant cuts to the health care system,” Irwin said.
Friends of Medicare said it stands in solidarity with nurses as they stand up for patient care.
“The government is making it extremely clear how little they value not only our vital health care workers, but all the Albertans who depend on the care those workers provide,” said executive director Sandra Azocar in a statement.
Christopher Gregg, of Sundre, who came out to the information picket to hand out red roses to nurses, said health care and emergency workers remained on the job throughout the pandemic for people who needed help and they should be supported.
“I just want to thank them, thank them for all, for what they’ve done,” Gregg said.