The entire health-care system in Manitoba would "grind to a halt" if members of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals go on strike, their union president says.
About 3,000 health-care workers are threatening to go on strike if the province doesn't step up and offer them a fair deal by Jan. 31. The union has been without a contract for almost two years.
'If it ever comes down to that we withdraw out services in a strike situation, the health-care system would literally grind to a halt.' - Bob Moroz
"Two years without an agreement is an awful long time," said Michael Thibert, a union member and spiritual care provider at St. Boniface Hospital.
"We'd like to get it settled as quick as possible so that all of our members can get on with their lives."
Union members will be providing information about the possible strike to people outside hospitals and clinics across Winnipeg this week, starting with the Health Sciences Centre on Monday.
"We're asking for reasonable increases," union president Bob Moroz said, adding he left negotiations with the province in the morning to support dozens of union members on the picket lines. "We're not asking for piles of money."
The union represents pharmacists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, radiology technologists, X-ray technologists, MRI and CT technologists, respiratory therapists, speech pathologists, social workers, hospice care workers and dozens of other technical health-care professions in the province.
"If it ever comes down to that we withdraw out services in a strike situation, the health-care system would literally grind to a halt," Moroz said.
"Lab testing would virtually disappear; diagnostic imaging would decrease; discharge planning with social workers and physios and O.T.s in the hospitals would have to be decreased. So, that's the leverage right now."
Members 'exceedingly frustrated'
In mid-December, Moroz said members had grown "exceedingly frustrated" with the negotiation process, which has stalled and hit a number of snags over the last few months.
- 'Exceedingly frustrated' Manitoba health-care workers prepared to strike in new year
- Manitoba civil servants mull over details of tentative contract from province
One of the reasons things have moved so slowly is the province hasn't empowered its bargaining team in the labour relations secretariat to offer workers what they deserve, Moroz said.
"Our negotiations have dragged on long enough. It's time for action," Moroz said in a statement. "I am unable to comprehend the attitude and actions of this employer regarding the critical value our members have within the health-care system."
Moroz said many of the categories of technical professionals represented by the union are not being offered wages that are competitive with other parts of Canada. Some workers employed in similar professions in East Coast provinces,"where the cost of living is nowhere near where it is in Manitoba," are making between 10 and 20 per cent more than their Manitoba counterparts, Moroz added.
"[Many] are at the very bottom, or at least very near the bottom in terms of national wage scales and that's unacceptable," Moroz said.
In a strike vote last fall, 88 per cent of union members who voted said "Yes" to a strike mandate.
"It would be a terrible situation of course, but we feel our hand is being forced right now to either get this deal done this week, or we're going to be facing real, potential strike action," Moroz said.
In a statement to CBC News issued Monday afternoon, Finance Minister Greg Dewar said talks with the union are continuing.
"We have had ongoing and productive discussions with MAHCP as we work towards a collective agreement. We had meetings at the negotiating table earlier this month, with additional sessions scheduled for today and continuing this week," Dewar said.