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Alberta union president warns against cutting health care jobs to save money

The president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees says cuts to the health care system shouldn't be made on the backs of workers and Albertans who depend on the services they provide.

Reaction follows revelation that widespread cuts being considered to Alberta Health Services

Health Services Interim President and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu says each department within AHS will be examined for "efficiencies." (Martin Barraud/Getty Images)

The president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees says cuts to the health care system shouldn't be made on the backs of workers and Albertans who depend on the services they provide. 

"Our members are already stretched to the limit when it comes to frontline services," Guy Smith said Friday. "There is nowhere to cut on the front lines because health care to Albertans will suffer as a result."

On Thursday, Dr. Verna Yiu, the interim president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, warned that cuts are being considered in every health department. 

"We're in very tough times," Yiu said after the newly-appointed AHS board met. "You can name me a department, and I bet you it will be affected in some way or the other."

The AHS board is expected to unveil a new budget during its next regular meeting in February, and will be reviewing each line item in an attempt to cut costs wherever possible.

"We have to make choices in Alberta and we've never had to do that," said Yiu. "We don't have all the money at our hands to be able to do everything we want to do so it's going to be challenging.

"We didn't anticipate the price of oil to be so low."

Alberta's health care cost increases have remained steady at six per cent over the last two years. For the 2015-16 fiscal year, Yiu said she would like to trim the average increase to 2.8 per cent, a benchmark she described as her biggest challenge.

Yiu said AHS will look at things like improving efficiencies, but suggested a big part of the savings will have to come from employees working in health care. Labour costs account for 70 per cent of the budget, she noted.

"We are trying to look at standardization around hours, trying to combat overtime and sick time, increase our full time percentages in the province, which actually makes it more efficient for us in the long term," she said.

But Smith argues his members make up the lowest paid members of AHS staff, compared to administration and physicians. AUPE members include licensed practical nurses, health care aides and clerical workers.

Yiu would like to cut back on overtime. She thinks hiring full-time instead of part-time staff could make the system more efficient. Smith agrees. 

"That would probably help cut down on overtime," he said. 

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