UCP informs unions it is slashing thousands more public sector jobs

By Catherine Griwkowsky December 2, 2019

Public sector unions in Alberta learned of massive layoffs on Friday, with up to 5,900 full-time jobs on the chopping block over the next three years, including 2,500 Government of Alberta positions. 
The United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) and Health Sciences Association were told of the cuts in letters sent from Alberta Health Services (AHS) Friday. 
According to AUPE, thousands of full-time positions at AHS will either be cut or contracted out to private providers, including housekeepers, laundry attendants and administrative assistants in the health sector. 
The UNA also said 750 registered nursing (RN) and psychiatric nursing positions will be affected, but is worried more cuts are to come. 
“From the tone of what we were told, we believe this is only the first wave of layoffs affecting RNs represented by UNA,” said UNA president Heather Smith in a news release, adding that “there are also clear indications that AHS plans to shift many of the costs of health care onto Albertans who require treatment.”
According to AHS lead negotiator Raelene Fitz, the letter the organization received from the government said job cuts will come from attrition until March 31, 2020. Beginning April 1, jobs will be slashed through collective agreements. 
Collective bargaining is already underway with some unions, while others are due for negotiations in the spring. 
Finance Minister Travis Toews said unions were notified of the planned cuts last week as a “requisite step” in the bargaining process. 
The status quo is not sustainable when it comes to government spending, according to Toews, who cited the MacKinnon report. 
“This means that some difficult but necessary decisions are required to ensure available funding is directed to the front-line services Albertans need most,” Toews said. “These could include changes to staffing levels, aligning resources to areas where need is greater, as well as finding alternative ways to deliver services that would keep jobs in the Alberta economy.”
Fitz’s letter notes the government’s “operational best practice” review is only in its early stages and it does not know “the extent of any potential impacts to the workforce at this time.” 
NDP Health critic David Shepherd accused Kenney of breaking the public health guarantee —  a pre-election campaign promise he signed in February.
“This premier tried to claim it was fear and smear when we accused him of cutting front line nurses and health workers. Today, Albertans can see the so-called ‘smear’ was just the truth and the real fear is in the eyes of every Albertan relying on quality public health care,” Shepherd said. 
The NDP plans to call an emergency debate on the layoffs this week. 
The Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) said up to 1,000 frontline positions could be cut or contracted to private providers, including lab workers. 
This does not include jobs that will be eliminated via the privatization of hospital transfer ambulance services, which the HSAA says the UCP is also mulling. 
HSAA president Mike Parker criticized Premier Kenney for “dumping such dramatic shifts to our public health-care system” while he was in Calgary for the UCP’s annual general meeting, calling him an “underhanded coward.”
“Once again this premier is announcing critical decisions that impact Albertans while he is out of the public limelight,” Parker said, alluding to the government’s move to fire the election commissioner while Kenney was in Texas on a trade mission. 
The AUPE provincial executive and local chapters will meet this week to determine next steps.