Manitoba

'Exceedingly frustrated' Manitoba health-care workers prepared to strike in new year

A group of 3,500 front-line health-care workers that has been without a contract for almost two years is threatening to strike in the new year if a deal can't be reached with the province.

3,500 members of MAHCP have been without a contract for almost 2 years, union says

The Manitoba Association of Health Care Practitioners says its 3,500 members will go on strike Jan. 31, 2016, if a contract can't be worked out with the province by then. (MAHCP)

A union representing roughly 3,500 front-line health-care workers says its membership is fed up and plans to strike in the new year if the province doesn't agree to sit down at the bargaining table to work out details for a new contract.

Bob Moroz, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals (MAHCP), said members of the union have been without a contract for almost two years.

"Our members tell me that their resolve is being tested and they are ready to stand up more than ever," he said.

The MAHCP represents a diverse group of technical professionals in health regions across Manitoba, including physiotherapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, radiology technologists, X-ray technologists, MRI and CT technologists, cardiology technologists, pharmacists, speech pathologists, hospice care workers, social workers and more.

If the union does strike, there are a number of ways it could affect Manitobans seeking a variety of health-care services, including increased wait times and delays to a number of common diagnostic tests, Moroz said.

"I don't believe the government even understands the impact of us withdrawing our services for even a very short period of time," he said.

Beginning of bargaining

The union's contract with the province was set to expire in March 2014. Moroz said the MAHCP notified the province of its intent to enter bargaining discussions almost three months earlier, in January of that year.

The first meeting with Manitoba's labour relations secretariat, a division of government that deals with the negotiation of collective agreements in the public sector, happened at the end of October 2014, Moroz said.

He said the province gave "hints and indications" that the MAHCP would have a new contract ready some time near the end of June 2015, but that never happened.

Negotiations have stalled a number of times in the past year. Moroz said it was clear at the beginning of the year that the province had not empowered its bargaining representatives to offer MAHCP workers a fair deal.

"We don't believe the government actually provided the bargaining team for the employer's side with the financial mandate that would be anywhere near acceptable to our members," he said.

Off the agenda

The group and several other unions representing health-care workers have met with the province on six separate occasions since Nov. 18. The purpose of the meetings has been to work out collective agreements between the province and employees working for organizations such as the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA), Moroz said.

Moroz said the MAHCP's needs have been pushed off the agenda three times in six meetings over the last few weeks due to higher priority items.

"Our members are exceedingly frustrated and I'll be honest, it's not just ourselves — there are other health-care unions that are in the very same boat," he said.

Contracts ended for workers with the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), as well as others, at the same time in 2014, Moroz said.

"We're all running up against a brick wall when it comes to getting an answer out of this government," Moroz said.

"Specifically, why [is] the Manitoba Nurses Union able to conclude a collective agreement relatively quickly compared to what the rest of us are doing?"

Lack of appreciation

Moroz said the concerns of technical professionals on the front line have taken the back seat to other negotiations. He thinks it reflects a lack of appreciation for the kinds of work they do in the health-care system.

"We're not nurses, we're not physicians, but there's no way hospitals and health facilities run without the work that we do," he said. "Anything that requires a diagnosis, nurses and physicians do not do the work to provide the diagnoses, they don't do the testing work — those are our members."

Moroz said for months, he has been hearing from members on a daily basis who are upset with the lack of a contract.

"It shakes the confidence of our membership in the union."

Moroz said none of the workers want to add to wait-list issues, but they've been forced into that position.

"The patience is at an end. We have to stand up right now and say, 'We can't continue to operate the way we are right now,'" he said. "Sometimes talking and explaining the situation doesn't seem to be ringing true.

"Our members are ready to show how important we are to the system. If that requires withdrawing services until we get some attention, than I think that's where our members want to go."

The province said it supports the services MAHCP members provide to Manitobans.

"We are currently in ongoing discussions with MACHP‎ regarding dates we can sit down at the negotiating table soon and work towards a collective agreement," a spokesperson with the province said in a statement.

"While some are calling for deep cuts, we believe in continuing to make smart, strategic investments in our health system."

The MAHCP strike deadline is set for Jan. 31, 2016.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, climate, health and more. He recently finished up a stint as a producer for CBC's Quirks & Quarks. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

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