Alberta’s finance minister is aiming to roll back nurses’ wages to help balance the province’s finances.
Alberta Health Services is asking for a three per cent pay cut as part of ongoing labour negotiations with the United Nurses of Alberta. The union said in a statement Tuesday that in addition to previous rollback asks that would reduce compensation by five per cent.
Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a statement Tuesday evening that Alberta needed to get its finances back on track while praising the role of the province’s nurses throughout the pandemic.
“The need to bring wages in line with other large provinces does not diminish our deep respect for the exceptional work and dedication of public sector workers,” the statement said.
“It is simply reflective of our fiscal reality, and one that many sectors in the province have experienced.”
Toews said the past 16 months have put considerable additional strain on the province’s already high levels of debt and deficit. He said the government was hopeful Alberta Health Services and UNA will bargain in good faith to ensure health-care workers are treated fairly “while being respectful of the province’s fiscal reality.”
His statement says Alberta nurses make about 5.6 per cent more on average than comparable provinces.
UNA and provincial negotiators are set to meet again on Thursday.
‘Shocking’ posture change, union says
The province and the UNA started collective bargaining in January 2020. UNA chief negotiator David Harrigan said the rollback was a stark contrast to a previously-proposed continuing wage freeze.
“It was quite shocking for us,” Harrigan said Tuesday evening. He said unlike other sectors the demand for health care has only increased through the pandemic and that a shortage of nurses was causing bed closures.
On Sunday, AHS said a nursing shortage would temporarily reduce the number of acute care beds at the Rocky Mountain House Health Centre from 33 to 27. It anticipated a stabilized staffing level in about a month.
Harrigan also questioned why nurses were being targeted for a rollback.
“Every profession in Alberta is paid higher than comparator provinces — we used to call that the Alberta advantage.”
He said Toews was “cherry-picking the numbers that he thinks will advance his case.”
Harrigan said the UNA plans to file complaints with the Alberta Labour Relations Board for bad faith bargaining.