August 16, 2021
Late last week, Albertans learned that Alberta Health Services is contemplating plans to address nursing shortages by hiring contract nurses. AHS has been in ongoing negotiations with United Nurses of Alberta, and has proposed a 3% pay cut for the nurses it employs, which the UCP government has claimed is necessary in order to get Alberta’s finances “back on track.” Now we see that they are considering offers from Greenstaff Medical Canada to contract nurses for $55-$75 an hour — compared to $36.86-$48.37 per hour earned by AHS nurses currently.
“It’s what Alberta’s health care workers have been saying all along: the ongoing disputes with the government have never been solely about money, but about the government’s unwillingness to give front-line workers the respect they deserve,” says Azocar. “When the government is showing they’re amenable to paying upwards of $75 per contracted nurse, but are still attempting to slash the wages of the nurses we currently have, it’s pretty clear that this was never really about finances.”
Hiring agencies like Greenstaff are not free, but typically charge employers for the services they provide. They may charge a flat fee per service, or take a percentage of the employee's contracted hourly salary. With this in mind, Albertans should be asking how much is the Alberta government and AHS willing to pay in order to undermine bargaining, and to undercut the value we place on the work that nurses do on our behalf.
According to UNA, AHS had not disclosed this plan during their ongoing negotiations, as is required by law, despite the fact that they’ve had discussions regarding staffing and recruiting strategies as recently as last week.
An AHS spokesperson has since downplayed the concerns of the union and Albertans, stating they were only in ‘preliminary discussions’ and that no contracts have been signed as of yet.
“Why are these ‘discussions’ being had in the first place? That the government is even considering contracting out such an essential health care service from private companies, at a much greater expense to Albertans, just goes to show the lengths that they’ll go to to undermine our public health care system and the workers who keep it going,” says Azocar. “If they want to recruit and retain nurses, which is what Alberta really needs, they need to give them the respect they deserve. It shouldn’t even be a question.”
We have a message for AHS and our government: stop wasting our health care dollars on high-priced private solutions, and focus instead on reinforcing a workforce strategy that is respectful, and that compensates our front line workers accordingly.
“Patients are already suffering the impacts of this health care staffing shortage,” says Azocar. “Especially while our COVID-19 hospitalizations are on the rise once again, and while hospitals are seeing bed closures nearly every day, it’s abhorrent that the government is playing these kinds of games.”
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