Rallies will be held at hospitals throughout Alberta on Wednesday as thousands of nurses gather in protest of a proposed wage rollback.
The United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) has been in talks with Alberta’s UCP government since July, trying to negotiate a new collective agreement.
The union is using a series of information pickets on Wednesday dubbed a ‘Day of Action’ to express its objections to the government’s suggested three per cent salary rollback.
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The union, which represents more than 30,000 nurses in Alberta, said the rollback would be in addition to other cutbacks like the elimination of semi-annual lump-sum payments and reduced shift and weekend premiums.
As such, the union said it represents at least a five per cent compensation reduction.
“Alberta’s nurses, over the last 18 months, have been giving everything they have to fighting the pandemic and keeping Albertans healthy and safe,” UNA spokesperson Cameron Westhead said.
“It just feels very disrespectful to have given everything that we have, put our families in danger and ourselves in danger of catching the (COVID-19) virus, only to have the government tell us that we’re worth five per cent less than before we started the pandemic.
“It’s very insulting to nurses to feel undervalued by our government.”
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Westhead said the union hopes the information pickets on Wednesday will send a message to the government that they’re going to “stand up and fight back.”
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“We don’t want to take these rollbacks, and we think members of the public also don’t want to see nurses’ pockets being picked,” Westhead added.
Westhead said Alberta is seeing beds closing, especially in rural areas, due to a staffing shortage.
“If that staffing shortage goes on and on, patient care will obviously suffer,” he said. “What’s causing the bed shortages is vacancies not being filled.”
Westhead said the proposed wage rollback won’t help Alberta recruit and keep health-care workers.
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In a statement, Minister of Treasury Board and Finance Travis Toews said the UCP government is “appreciative of the hard work and dedication that health care professionals – especially nurses – have shown over the last 18 months.”
“We respect the rights of all Albertans to express their opinions on matters important to them,” Toews said.
“Our government is also committed to standing up for the health care system, and representing the best interests of all Albertans. That’s why we have been urging both Alberta Health Services (AHS) and UNA to work towards a new collective agreement that will bring long-term labour stability to the health care system.
“Reaching a new collective agreement with UNA is essential for the province.”
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The province has said that on average, Alberta’s nurses are paid 5.6 per cent more than in comparable provinces.
However, Westhead said all occupations in the province earn more than their counterparts across Canada.
“Most occupations earn about 15 per cent more than their counterparts in the rest of Canada, so nurses only earning about five per cent more than their counterparts is actually a bargain.”
The UNA said the two sides met on Tuesday and will return to the bargaining table on Friday.
For more information on picket times and locations, you can visit the United Nurses of Alberta website.
—With files from Sarah Offin.
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