Unions told thousands more job cuts coming to Alberta public service

Nearly 6,000 Alberta public-sector jobs could be eliminated as the UCP government tries to cut costs and find efficiencies, the provincial government signalled to unions in letters released late Friday afternoon.

Letters to unions from Alberta government released late Friday in advance of collective bargaining

Arbitrators have ruled that United Nurses of Alberta and Alberta Teachers' Association members will not receive a wage increase in the last year of their provincial contract. (David Bajer/CBC)

Nearly 6,000 Alberta public-sector jobs could be eliminated as the UCP government tries to cut costs and find efficiencies, the provincial government signalled to Alberta's largest union in letters released late Friday afternoon.

The union received the letters in advance of bargaining for 2020 collective agreements. The letters are not formal notices of layoffs, but as required under the collective bargaining process, outline cuts the provincial government might make.

The potential cuts would impact 2,500 Government of Alberta positions across several ministries, as well as the following positions at Alberta Health Services:

  • 1,000 to 2,000 housekeepers;
  • 350 administrative support and medical transcription employees;
  • 250 general support staff, such as maintenance employees;
  • 235 laundry and linen operations staff;
  • 200 auxiliary nursing employees, such as licensed practical nurses and health-care aides;
  • 200 home care services staff;
  • 165 foodservice employees.

"The [Government of Alberta] will continue to guarantee employment security until March 30, 2020, for permanent bargaining unit employees using attrition, vacancy management and redeployment to meet employer needs," states a Thursday letter to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees from Alberta Public Service Commissioner Tim Grant.

But the letter continues that as of April 1 of next year, the government "will use all options available under the collective agreement to ensure government is on track to implement key priorities and support the government's path to balance by 2020-23."

Grant said several government cost-cutting initiatives could impact "approximately 2,500 positions" through to the end of the 2022-23 fiscal year.

The letter does not go into much detail about what those initiatives are, but several government ministries are specifically mentioned: Health, Service Alberta, Community and Social Services, Agriculture and Forestry, Seniors and Housing, and Transportation.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley called the potential cuts "cruel and heartless," and said they represent a betrayal of what Premier Jason Kenney promised during his election campaign this spring.

"Jason Kenney repeatedly claimed that he was going to protect front-line services," Notley said. "He does not have a mandate for this because this is the exact opposite of what he told Albertans he would do."

AUPE president Guy Smith was not available for an interview Friday evening.

In a statement earlier Friday about the collective bargaining process, Finance Minister Travis Toews said the status quo "is not a sustainable option" and said Alberta spends more per capita on services than other large provinces, with often worse results.

"We were also clear about the need for an ongoing review of government programs to ensure they are efficient and effective, and that this could result in changes to the public service," he said.

Plans to contract out services

A Friday letter to the union from Dennis Holliday, the head of negotiations and labour relations for Alberta Health Services (AHS), details thousands of positions at the health authority that could be at risk.

In October's provincial budget, the UCP increased health-care spending by $201 million to a total of $20.6 billion, a smaller increase than in previous years under the former NDP government. At the time, Toews told reporters, "It's hard to talk about fiscal responsibility without talking about health care."

Holliday's letter to AUPE said that, while the AHS budget has remained stable, "Alberta's growing and aging population means we need to be more efficient and focused in terms of healthcare spending.

"This places increased demand on our healthcare services and it means we have to do things differently in order to provide safe, effective, and high-quality care for Albertans."

Holliday said contracting out AHS housekeeper positions would affect between 1,000 and 2,000 full-time equivalent positions. Doing the same to remaining laundry and linen operations and retail food services would affect 235 and 165 positions, respectively.

"If further contracting out initiatives are to be considered in future, we will advise as required," the letter states.

"AHS will continue to consider all options available to meet our organizational needs including changes to staff mix, service redesign, including changes and repurposing of sites, relocating services, reducing or ceasing the provision of services," it says.

Notley said it is clear the UCP government intends to further privatize public services.

"Albertans will pay the price for this. And again, it's entirely unnecessary. This has gone from prudent fiscal management to an extreme ideological vendetta." 

More potential cuts for nurses announced

On Friday, the United Nurses of Alberta learned that a further 750 front-line nurses could lose their jobs under a "massive downsizing" at AHS.

The nurses' union said it learned of the planned cuts Friday morning after the lead negotiator for AHS, Raelene Fitz, called a meeting unexpectedly to inform the union that it plans to eliminate 500 full-time-equivalent (FTE) nursing positions over a three-year period beginning April 1, 2020.

Cutting 500 full-time-equivalent positions would mean layoffs for more than 750 front-line registered nurses because many nurses work part-time hours, the union said.

The plans were disclosed "in advance of bargaining for UNA's 2020 provincial collective agreement so that the union would have time to absorb the information and respond accordingly," the union said in a news release.

Decisions are still being made, but AHS was required to disclose the measures as part of the collective bargaining process, the health authority said in a statement.

Kenney was at a business conference in Lake Louise on Friday. When reporters asked him about the potential nursing cuts, he said this is in line with the UCP government's agenda.

"We've always been clear that getting our province's finances back in order will require some reduction in the size of the overall public service, and that we hope to achieve that primarily through attrition," Kenney said. "My understanding is that's the goal of AHS management."

Notley, however, said she is "very, very worried for Albertans of all walks of life because this is going to seriously destabilize the quality of health care that Albertans across this province need to rely on."