Edmonton

Offer to health support workers 'fair, reasonable' in light of fiscal problems, finance minister says

Alberta Finance Minster Travis Toews is defending his government’s offer to health care support workers as fair and reasonable, while the union calls it disrespectful to the people who have kept hospitals functioning during the pandemic. 

AUPE says government negotiators want 4 per cent pay cut

UNA and AUPE members protested possible health care cuts and privatization at rallies across Alberta last year. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Alberta Finance Minster Travis Toews is defending his government's offer to health care support workers as fair and reasonable, while the union calls it disrespectful to the people who have kept hospitals functioning during the pandemic. 

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees said Alberta Health Services negotiators have tabled an offer of a four per cent wage rollback for one year, followed by three years of zero increases in the latest round of contract talks. 

Toews says AUPE was asking for a five per cent increase in salaries over the next two years, which he said is an increase of $105 million. He said Alberta can't afford wage increases while it faces down $93 billion in debt. 

"Our proposal is fair, reasonable, and in the best interest of all Albertans," Toews said in a news release Friday.

"AHS is offering job security to employees in exchange for the one-time wage reduction. This is a fair and equitable trade."

AUPE vice-president Susan Slade said the offer is disrespectful to the cleaning, laundry and food services staff who kept hospitals functioning during the pandemic. She said workers in the General Support Services unit are among the lowest paid health care workers. 

"It's absolutely shameful that this government thinks that this is an appropriate thing to do after given the amount of hard work that everybody has done this last 16 months in this pandemic," Slade said in an interview with CBC News. 

"Members are rightfully angry. They're disappointed."

The government's latest offer to AUPE comes less than two weeks after government negotiators tabled an offer to Alberta nurses that would force them to take a three per cent salary rollback. 

NDP health critic David Shepherd said Premier Jason Kenney is trying to balance his budget on the back of health care workers. The Edmonton-Centre MLA said Kenney has spent millions on the Canadian Energy Centre, commonly known as the war room, and lost $1.3 billion of taxpayer money in the cancelled Keystone XL project.

"The premier has many, many areas where he has chosen to gamble and waste Alberta's tax dollars," Shepherd said.

"For him then to turn to our frontline health care workers who got us through this pandemic and say, you are going to pay for my mistakes and to try to attack and vilify them. It's unacceptable." 

Emergency rooms and hospitals across the province are facing bed closures due to staffing shortages.

Alberta Health Services confirmed that 18 spaces at the Royal Alexandra Hospital emergency department were closed for four hours early Friday morning. 

Twelve beds reopened at 7 a.m., leaving six beds closed due to "short-term staffing coverage issues," the health authority said via its Twitter account. 

At an unrelated news conference earlier on Friday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Alberta's situation isn't any different from the pressures faced by health care systems in Canada and across the world due to COVID-19.

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