The United Conservative Party (UCP) government is continuing its attacks on health-care workers in Alberta. Their latest targets are workers unionized under the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA).  These workers have not had a contract since 2020 nor have they received a raise in eight years. Now, after being on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 for two years, their employer— Alberta Health Services (AHS), under the direction of the UCP— is now seeking an egregious three years of wage freezes with a one per cent raise in 2023. 

To add insult to injury, AHS is also seeking rollbacks on wages to over 57 per cent of HSAA workers. To sow division amongst HSAA, the rollbacks are set at different levels for different professions. Social Workers and Pharmacy Technicians are facing close to an11 per cent rollback on the high end, while Dieticians and Advance Care Paramedics are facing less than a one per cent rollback on the low end. The full list of rollbacks, published by CTV, are as follows:

Pharmacy Technician – 10.93 per cent

Social Worker – 10.90 per cent

Speech Language Pathologist – 8.69 per cent

Respiratory Therapist – 8.05 per cent

Health Information Management Professional – 7.49 per cent

Occupational Therapist – 5.39 per cent

Pharmacist – 5.10 per cent

Therapy Assistant – 2.35 per cent

Physiotherapist – 2.33 per cent

Diagnostic Sonographer – 1.87 per cent

Dietitian – 0.88 per cent

Advanced Care Paramedic – 0.28 per cent

The UCP justified these rollbacks by stating that HSAA workers make 14 per cent more than their peers in Ontario, so the rollbacks will bring HSAA inline with others in their professions. This is particularly scandalous as thousands of non-unionized workers in the public sector,  two-thirds of them managers, received raises totaling 14 million dollars on April 1, 2022. The UCP claims that the government needs to remain competitive and attract competent staff to these managerial positions. Apparently, despite still struggling with COVID, and fighting an opioid crisis, Alberta needs to attract managers, but not frontline healthcare workers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There has been high demand for frontline healthcare workers across Canada as the pandemic pushed many to find jobs outside the sector. In the fourth quarter of 2021, there was a 160 per cent increase in job vacancies for social workers, 117 per cent increase in job vacancies for registered nurses, and an 81 per cent increase in job vacancies for nurses aides. 

HSAA has rightfully rejected the wage freezes and rollbacks. They railed against the UCP’s proposal in an email: “Not only are they insulting, considering the extra efforts we’ve given over the past few years, but also on principle. Singling out disciplines for varying rollbacks is an attack on our solidarity. It’s meant to drive wedges between us.” This is entirely correct; however, HSAA have counter proposed a meagre 1.5 per cent raise for the first year and then a one per cent increase for the next three years. Since these wage increases would not even cover this year’s inflation rate, this in fact remains a pay cut. These workers deserve more.

If HSAA workers want to fight back against the rollbacks and win wage increases that won’t be eroded by inflation, then they need to negotiate from a position of strength. The only way to do so is to prepare for a struggle. Weakness invites aggression, and if HSAA doesn’t mobilize the rank and file for a strike against these attacks, the bosses will not hesitate to walk all over them. A struggle of healthcare workers against Kenney’s attacks would undoubtedly enjoy massive support among the rest of the population. The UCP have been circling the drain, with the lowest popularity in the country. A mass strike movement in defence of healthcare workers would have immense public support and is the only way to stop this government in its tracks. Let’s build that movement now.