Edmonton (10 Oct. 2014) — Faced with a crisis in health care, Jim Prentice's Conservative government appears to be planning to cut the quality of emergency care and attack front-line workers, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA/NUPGE) said on October 8.
"Rick Fraser, the premier's new Legislative Secretary for Ambulance Services, is openly speaking about lower levels of training for workers providing inter-facility transfers (IFT) for patients and about saving money by implementing a new pay structure for rural ambulance crews," says Elisabeth Ballermann, HSAA President which represents paramedics, emergency medical technicians and emergency medical responders.
Barely in office, the Alberta government targets front-line health care workers and rural services
"Prentice and new Health Minister Stephen Mandel have promised to tackle the health care crisis, but instead of attacking the problem, their first options appear to be to lower levels of care and to attack the front-line workers," she says.
"It is disturbing that on the same day that Alberta Health Services (AHS) told us that it did not have a mandate to discuss wages in our negotiations for a new and overdue contract, that a senior member of the government is telling people that the Prentice government wants to save money on emergency care by lowering IFT qualifications and cutting pay for rural ambulance crews. Perhaps they can explain to rural Alberta voters why they are making it even more difficult to attract top-level health care providers."
Fraser's thoughts on ambulance services were revealed to the president of the Calgary and District Labour Council, Alex Shevalier, in a meeting on October 7.
"This is Prentice's first at bat in dealing with workers and all we can say is he's striking out. It seems that this government is following the same course as the Redford government by picking fights with workers - in this case trusted health-care experts who save lives every day - instead of doing the real work of fixing the health-care crisis it created," says Ballermann.
"It seems obvious that a directive has come from the Prentice government to put a halt to bargaining with front-line workers," she says.
After Prentice elected leader, Alberta Health Services refused to negotiate with HSAA/NUPGE as scheduled leading to a breakdown in talks
The Alberta Health Services signed deals with other health care workers in the months before Prentice's election, but suddenly announced yesterday it didn't have a mandate to talk about wages with HSAA/NUPGE leading to a breakdown in talks and the filing of an application for third-party mediation. Meanwhile the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) today reported that same tactics had been used in their negotiations on behalf of General Support Staff with AHS.
"Albertans know that front-line workers are not the problem. They are not the enemy. If the Prentice government is intent on mimicking Redford by picking a fight with them, he risks paying the price at the ballot box. Our members have been mobilized like never before by Redford's attacks. They're in no mood to ignore this new attack," says Ballermann.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE