The Alberta government has appointed a one-person disputes inquiry board in hopes of preventing 1,200 Extendicare seniors' care workers from walking off the the job


AUPE president Guy Smith said Extendicare is asking for wage rollbacks, reduced sick time and fewer holidays for its 1,200 seniors-care workers. (CBC)

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees served 72-hour strike notice Friday allowing workers at the eight Extendicare facilities to walk off the job at 11 a.m. Monday

That job action was averted after Human Services Minister Dave Hancock announced the appointment of arbitrator Lyle Kanee to the one-person disputes inquiry board.

Kanee will sit down with both sides in hopes of reaching a negotiated settlement. If no agreement is reached in 45 days, Kanee will send recommendations for a settlement to Human Services Minister Dave Hancock.

The union confirmed that it will work with the board. They may still strike after the 45-day period expires. They will also ask Health Minister Fred Horne to launch an independent review into how private seniors' care providers use public funding.

"The system is still in crisis," said AUPE negotiator Kevin Davediuk. "We may solve this but obviously our pleas to Minister Horne will be about the bigger picture."

Dispute affects eight centres across Alberta

Extendicare workers are upset that they are not paid as much as their counterparts who work for Alberta Health Services.

"We take care of the residents, their laundry, their dishes and everything else," said Mohammed Akhtar, who works at the Eaux Clares Extendicare in Edmonton.

"At the hospital, they don't do as much, but they are paid more. So why are we not paid at the same standard?"

Peoiple who have family members at the facility have heard little and they remain anxious that workers may eventually go on strike.

"My dad's okay because he can dress himself and all that," said Heather Green. "But there's some of them that can't do it. [The workers] shouldn't be allowed to strike"

AUPE was planning to offer "life-and-limb" support in cases of emergencies, AUPE president Guy Smith earlier on Friday.

Extendicare is asking workers to accept wage rollbacks, reduced sick time and fewer holidays, Smith said.

On Thursday Extendicare backed out of mediation scheduled for today, he said.

Extendicare said it had a contingency plan in place, but would not comment further.

Extendicare's eight seniors homes in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Athabasca and Mayerthorpe care for about 1,000 seniors.