Reposted from (February 3, 2020)

“The Alberta Government clearly hopes to use the Ernst & Young report on Alberta Health Services to take Alberta down a road to substantial health care privatization, says United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith.

Responding to arguments made in the review by the British-based multinational management consulting corporation and released at Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s news conference yesterday morning, Smith said the sale of public assets, outsourcing, and contracting out of health care have all been rejected by Albertans, “who have made it clear they don’t want to pay more to get less.”

In that regard, however, the outcome of the $2-million Ernst & Young review of AHS operations was no surprise, she observed, as it clearly reflects the government’s privatization agenda.

Expressing concern the government is using the report to bargain through the media with front-line health care employees, Smith pointed out that health care compensation in Alberta must be examined in the context of all salaries. “Statistics Canada figures show that average weekly earnings in virtually all job categories in Alberta are higher than in all other Canadian provinces,” she explained.

“This is true in management positions, business and administration, the sciences, education, law, community and government services, art and culture, sales and service, trades and transport, natural resources and agriculture, manufacturing and utilities, and , yes, health care,” she stated. “So you could have done this study for any business or public enterprise in Alberta and said exactly the same thing.”

“Cherry-picking health care pay and trying to use that as a club in bargaining to make nurses and other front-line health care providers alone pay for big cuts the government hopes to make is unjust and certainly won’t impress our members, the majority of whom are women,” she said.

“We’ll certainly be making that point at the bargaining table and we expect to prevail if the collective bargaining approach is allowed to function as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees,” Smith stated, noting that AHS “tabled these very proposals” in bargaining for UNA’s next collective agreement on January 15.

Smith said there is no evidence whatsoever for Ernst & Young’s claim “provisions contained in the collective agreements can make it challenging for AHS to implement innovative staffing approaches to meet demands, especially in rural areas.”

The report’s authors appear to have tried to delve into the minutiae of UNA’s collective agreement with AHS without understanding the agreement, she continued. For example, contrary to a statement made by Ernst & Young in its review, UNA’s current collective agreement with AHS includes a letter of understanding that allows the employer to create rural multi-site positions.

As for the claim by Ernst & Young that collective agreements contain provisions restricting the use of vacancies, “we have no idea what they’re talking about.”

She also said it would be disgraceful if the government were to seriously consider the ironic Ernst & Young recommendation that Canada’s largest health care provider try to cut health care benefits to employees who work less than 15 hours a week.

“UNA will never let such an idea go unchallenged. It’s poor policy from a health care perspective that would cost more money in the long run, and it’s simply immoral,” she said.

Smith said she is also troubled by the report’s recommendation that the staffing mix should be changed to include a higher percentage of health care aides and licensed practical nurses. “These are patient care decisions that need to be made by clinicians, not accountants.””