Alberta health workers march outside University Hospital, protesting Bill 9

A group of Alberta Health Services employees protested the provincial government’s Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act outside the University of Alberta hospital on Monday.

Demonstrators held signs that read: “Bill 9 disrespects hard-working Albertans,” “Proud of my job. Fighting for quality health care,” “Let us go to arbitration” and “It’s our legal right to negotiate.”

The health minister was scheduled to tour the hospital on Monday, and the Health Sciences Association of Alberta called for an information picket outside. The HSAA represents 27,000 front-line healthcare workers across Alberta, including paramedics and lab technicians. They were joined by members from the United Nurses Association (UNA) and Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).

“A collaboration of all unions are gathering today at the university grounds because the Bill 9 action doesn’t just affect members of Health Sciences; it affects all workers in all unions in this province,” said HSAA president Mike Parker. “What it does is it opens up the sacred grounds of a collective agreement.

“We agree that we will come to work, they agree to maintain a collective agreement.

“This government has broken that trust and if they can’t guarantee our collective agreements, then we can’t guarantee labour trust and that’s what you’re seeing happening behind me.”

Bill 9 imposes a delay on wage talks for unionized workers who took pay freezes in the first years of their contracts, but had the right to reopen pay negotiations this year — with arbitration if needed.

A spokesperson for the finance ministry said: “Government’s decision to delay wage arbitrations is a responsible and measured approach.

“We greatly value the contribution of our public sector workers in Alberta.

“It’s important we have the time to understand the province’s economic picture. This temporary delay will give government the time to make an informed decision on how best to proceed, based partially on advice from the MacKinnon Panel.”

Health care workers rally against Bill 9 in Edmonton on Monday, July 15, 2019.

Health care workers rally against Bill 9 in Edmonton on Monday, July 15, 2019.

Health care workers rally against Bill 9 in Edmonton on Monday, July 15, 2019.

Healthcare workers rally against Bill 9 in Edmonton on Monday, July 15, 2019.

The government says the delay is only until November, but unions and the NDP predict arbitration will never take place and the government will begin imposing wage cuts as early as this fall.

“The government has said it’s not the point of Bill 9,” Parker said, “but unfortunately it’s the action of legislation that cracks open a collective agreement. And it doesn’t matter if it’s touching on dates, or touching on my benefits, our pension plans, our wages, it’s an action that opens our collective agreements and that is illegal.”

The Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act was passed on June 28, despite heated debate through the night and the NDP doing “all it could” to fight the bill.

Nurses joined other public sector workers in the gallery at the legislature during Question Period on June 20 to “demonstrate their displeasure with the violation of their rights,” the UNA said in a news release on June 21.

On June 24, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees filed a statement of claim against the provincial government, claiming Bill 9 breaches its members’ charter rights.

The workers affected by Bill 9 include nurses, social workers, hospital support staff, prison guards, conservation officers, toxicologists, restaurant inspectors, therapists and sheriffs.

Other unions had promised to challenge the legislation in court and haven’t ruled out job action.

The message protesters hoped to send to the United Conservatives on Monday?

“Stop breaking the laws on contracts, start negotiating and discussing,” Parker said. “You might want to consult with us and discuss with us on how to open a collective agreement. This isn’t how you do it.”

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