Sask. health-care unions say Moe's ultimatum on staffing agreement 'disturbing'

Health-care unions are upset Premier Scott Moe has given an ultimatum to reach an agreement to allow for greater flexibility in the workforce to respond to COVID-19 pressures by Monday, or face an emergency order.

'Nurses are feeling demoralized, defeated, depressed, burnt out and exhausted,' says SUN president

An ICU health-care worker is shown caring for a COVID-19 patient in a December 2020 photo. The president of CUPE Local 5430 says instead of ultimatums, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe should be discussing the concerns of health-care workers to address the staffing crisis. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Health-care unions are upset Premier Scott Moe has given an ultimatum to reach an agreement by Monday on staffing to respond to COVID-19 pressures, or face an emergency order.

Moe gave the ultimatum at a news conference on Friday, saying the government wants greater flexibility in the workforce as the province continues to grapple with the pandemic.

If no agreement can be reached, the government will sign an emergency order on Monday, Moe said.

But the president of the union that represents 14,000 health-care workers in the province says it was already in discussion with the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

"What is very upsetting is we were in discussion with the SHA over an LOU [letter of understanding] and staffing during this fourth wave of the pandemic and identifying areas that could be improved," said Sandra Seitz, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 5430.

"And now we're hearing that they're threatening to reactivate the previous LOU by Monday."

In a news release Friday, the province said before this summer, the health authority and health-sector unions had agreed to a letter of understanding that "allowed for labour mobility."  That LOU expired when the province lifted its state of emergency in July.

"While discussions with health-care provider unions continue," if the health authority and unions can't reach an agreement by Monday, "the government of Saskatchewan is prepared to sign another provincial emergency order to reactivate the previous provisions that enabled emergency labour mobility," the province's news release said.

Seitz said CUPE understands the strain on the health system, "yet the premier of the province is only implementing a mandatory isolation [for those infected with COVID-19] and not taking further measures when the numbers are going up."

Moe announced on Friday that the province will once again require COVID-19-positive people to isolate for 10 days and close contacts who are not vaccinated to self-isolate for 14 days, but will not reintroduce mandatory masking or bring in a proof-of-vaccination requirement to attend non-essential businesses and events, as several other provinces have.

Saskatchewan Union of Nurses president Tracy Zambory was also unimpressed with the premier's ultimatum.

"We've made it very clear that we have very strong collective bargaining agreement language that allows mobility of staff and we will continue to have those conversations over the weekend with the Saskatchewan Health Authority," said Zambory, but she added workers need some relief and support.

"Nurses are feeling demoralized, defeated, depressed, burnt out and exhausted," she said. "They cannot continue on. There needs to be some relief in the system."

Zambory said with the last letter of understanding, it was difficult for staff in high-pressure areas to get a break. 

"We're always there to talk solutions. We will continue to have those conversations and we will see where it goes from there."

Yesterday the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses held a virtual town hall with Saskatoon's emergency and acute care nurses. Host Leisha Grebinski speaks with Tracy Zambory, registered nurse and President of the Union.

Seitz said instead of ultimatums, the premier should be discussing the concerns of health-care workers to address the staffing crisis. 

"Our members are exhausted and we are willing to work on solutions for that, but we're just not being heard and that's very disturbing."

Zambory said there needs to be a slowdown in other areas to give relief to nurses and other health-care workers.

"We know that there is some conversation around, perhaps, elective surgeries. Let's have bigger conversations in that area," Zambory said.

"Let's look to see where we can have the system slow down, where we can get some breathing room and we can get some relief to the members who have been working hard and have kept this health-care system going since March of 2020."


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