Foreign-trained doctors accuse Alberta Health Services of discrimination

A group of foreign-trained doctors will soon launch a human rights complaint, claiming Alberta Health Services discriminated against them because they were not born in Canada.

Same work for lower pay not fair, but not discrimination,' MLA says

About 40 foreign-trained doctors in Edmonton hospitals say they're being treated unfairly. (CBC)

A group of foreign-trained doctors will soon launch a human rights complaint, claiming Alberta Health Services discriminated against them because they were not born in Canada.

They say Alberta Health Services (AHS) denied them collective bargaining and arbitration, which they claim they have a right to, even though they don't belong to a formal union.

I lost 10 years of my life- Adel Labib, foreign-trained doctor

"After all this history of treating patients and helping in the system, we are treated this way. It's very, very disrespectful," said Adel Labib, 57, who is one of about 40 foreign-trained doctors called clinical assistants in the Edmonton area.

Labib has a medical certificate from Egypt and completed his medical residency there in general surgery. As a clinical assistant, he's bound by a limited medical licence in Alberta, meaning he can only work in a hospital and cannot set up his own independent practice.

He works in surgical services at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, doing rounds and patient care in neurosurgery, thoracic, plastic and spine surgery. Sometimes he is the only physician supervising up to 100 patients.

Other clinical assistants fill similar, pressing gaps in the province's medical system, for roughly half the pay of their Canadian-trained counterparts, Labib said.

Contracts end in December

The contract workers are now being asked to work for even lower wages after recently receiving notice their contracts will end in December.

They said they must reapply for lower paying jobs with longer hours and no pay for overtime.

Adel Labib moved to Canada 10 years ago and is pictured here with his oldest son, Kiro, who is currently studying to be a doctor. (Courtesy of Adel Labib)
"As a physician who knows the work that the clinical assistants do, I think that this demand that they accept employment at considerably less than they were making is not fair," said Bob Turner, the MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud who took some of his constituents' concerns to Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.

But he balks at the premise of the human rights complaint.

"I don't think that what has happened to the clinical assistants could be characterized as discrimination," he said.

A spokesperson said AHS cannot give interviews on the issue because of ongoing legal action as the clinical assistants are also suing AHS in a lawsuit filed in September.

"Alberta Health Services places great value on the work that clinical assistants and clinical/surgical assistants do across the province, each day," said an emailed statement.

The statement explained that ending the contracts is an effort to balance out salaries, claiming that more than 80 per cent of affected employees will see their total compensation either increase or remain the same.

Labib and his colleagues, however, said they've received little to no information about what their salaries will be. And many are already planning to leave the country, rather than work for less.

"I wanted to come to Canada because of the equality, because of the respect," he said "Can you tell me that I got any of that?"

Labib said he will likely return to Egypt with his wife, who is also a clinical assistant, and two of his children who still live at home and dreamed of becoming doctors themselves.

"Disappointment, frustration, loss of hope," he said. "I lost 10 years of my life."

Bob Turner said the health minister assured him she has asked AHS management to "review" the concerns raised by the clinical assistants in his riding. He is still waiting for the results of that review.

The clinical assistants have hired Edmonton law firm Parlee McLaws to handle their human rights complaint, which is expected to be entered formally in the next couple of weeks. 

Statement from Alberta health minister Sarah Hoffman:

AHS started this transition a number of years ago after the College of Physicians and Surgeons raised concerns about how the role of clinical assistants was being managed. Most clinical assistants are already employees of AHS, and this change will ensure all of these professionals are under the same salary and management model, and more than 80 per cent of them will see their salary increase. The group has also contacted my office to share their frustrations. As this is an HR matter fully within AHS's scope, I encourage them to continue raising their concerns with AHS, and if they feel it necessary, with the college, but I am interested in their perspective and want to make sure they feel heard.


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