Since many people with the virus are either not tested or asymptomatic, Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping says the actual case numbers are much higher. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

Since many people with the virus are either not tested or asymptomatic, Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping says the actual case numbers are much higher. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

Proposed health worker pay rollbacks slammed

Health minister says wage cuts opening offer with union and he is confident deal will be reached

The Alberta government is under fire for proposing steep wage cuts for some frontline health care workers in contract negotiations.

Wage rollbacks nearing 11 per cent for pharmacy technicians and social workers were outlined in an email for Health Sciences of Association of Alberta (HSAA), which represents 25,000 paramedical technical, professional and general support employees in the health care system.

Negotiations between HSAA and Alberta Health Services (AHS) resumed last October after being paused during the pandemic and the email outlines an opening offer. Other proposed wage cuts include more than eight per cent for speech language pathologists and respiratory therapists and more than seven per cent for health information management professionals.

For occupational therapists, pharmacists, therapy assistants, physiotherapists, diagnostic sonographers, dietitians and advanced care paramedics proposed cuts range from 5.39 per cent to 0.28 per cent.

“This is a brutal insult to all the Albertans who have put themselves in harm’s way throughout the pandemic and who have worked to protect their fellow Albertans for their entire careers,” said David Shepherd, NDP health critic in a statement Monday.

“Respiratory therapists, paramedics, speech language pathologists, and so many others: they are heroes. And their work isn’t done. They continue to step up, under significant pressures, to support the health and save the lives of Albertans.

NDP critic for addictions and mental health Lori Sigurdson said the cuts come “in the midst of a substance use and mental health crisis.”

Social workers have been called on to do more as the pandemic has poverty, homelessness and mental health issues have increased.

Heath Minister Jason Copping said during Question Period on Monday that AHS’s proposed rollbacks are “initial positions in bargaining,” noting the same process resulted in the January agreement with United Nurses of Alberta.

“Again, these are opening positions and I am hopeful the parties will be able to negotiate through this and reach a fair agreement just like was done with UNA.”

That agreement, which runs from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2024, includes a 4.25 per cent wage increase over the term of the contract and a one-time lump sum payment of one per cent for 2021 in recognition of nurses’ contributions during the pandemic, along with additional mental health supports and the creation of a union-employer provincial workload advisory committee.

AHS said in a statement that “the bargaining process takes time, and we will not know the outcome of bargaining for some time. AHS respects the bargaining process and will not bargain in public or share details of bargaining while it is underway.”

“Any conjecture would be inappropriate and premature at this time.”

A statement provided by Alberta Treasury Board and Finance spokesperson Kassandra Kitz, says the two sides have tabled opening positions and the process is ongoing.

“We ask that the two parties work together to come to an agreement that is fair to the employees but also to the taxpayer. Out of respect for the bargaining process, we are not able to provide anything further.”

Public Interest Alberta also criticized the rollbacks at a time when the government is projecting a $500 million surplus and called for a similar agreement to that signed with United Nurses of Alberta in January.

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