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Union demands sick leave for casual front line health-care workers in Alberta

Casual front line health-care workers in Alberta deserve access to paid sick leave while working during the COVID-19 pandemic, their union says.

89-day contracts allow Alberta Health Services to avoid paying benefits, union says

Health Sciences Association of Alberta wants paid sick leave for casual front line health-care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Health Sciences Association of Alberta)

The union representing 27,000 front line health-care workers says it is not happy with Alberta Health Services' handling of casual workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

AHS offers some casual workers 89-day contracts in order to avoid providing the benefits required after three months of full-time employment as stipulated in their collective agreement, says the Health Sciences Association of Alberta.

That means no paid sick leave.

"How can AHS in good conscience ask health-care professionals to put their own health at risk while not providing for the possible consequences of that action?" HSAA president Mike Parker wrote in a letter to AHS president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu.

Parker said he's been pushing AHS to make a temporary amendment to the collective agreement for more than a month.

"We need to offer [casual workers] the protections of every other colleague that they sit beside out on the front lines doing what they've got to do," he said. "And that is the provision of sick time."

'Denied out of hand'

Due to privacy laws, Parker doesn't know how many casual workers are being offered 89-day contracts.

In his letter to Yiu, Parker notes that his initial request for paid sick time for casual employees while the health emergency was in place was "denied out of hand." He followed up with the letter on Tuesday.

On Friday, CBC News requested an interview with AHS, which responded with an emailed statement.

AHS said it received the letter from the Health Sciences Association of Alberta on April 21 and is working to respond to the concerns.

"We continue to consider a variety of options that are within the terms of our collective agreements as we look to hire additional support for our COVID-19 response," it said.

"We continue to work with our unions to collaborate and inform them of our rapidly evolving response to COVID-19."

Shortly after the interview request, the HSAA notified CBC that it heard directly from Yui who said AHS is reviewing the 89-day contracts and will get back to them "early next week."

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