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Thursday, 26 May 2011 09:27

HSAS pleased with public's support

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By Chris Jaster — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Health Sciences of Saskatchewan thinks it has the people of Saskatchewan on its side.

The union — which represents more than 3,000 specialized health-care workers, including emergency medical technicians, paramedics, hospital pharmacists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, social workers, psychologists and public health inspectors — released the results of a survey May 24 that found 67.5 per cent of Saskatchewan residents polled support the use of independent binding arbitration to settle the HSAS labour dispute.

“If anything we were pleasantly surprised (by the results),” said Cathy Dickson, HSAS’s president. “We weren’t shocked by any stretch. We felt that there was good possibility people would go that route because of all the press we’ve gotten in this regard. We’ve been very open and honest with people about why we’re asking for independent binding arbitration so we weren’t overly surprised by the numbers.”

HSAS has been without a contract since March 31, 2009. It is asking the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations, which bargains for the health regions, for an 18.5 per cent wage increase over four years. SAHO isn’t willing to give out more than 7.5 per cent over four years.

HSAS is also asking for health regions to stop not posting vacant positions so they can create a surplus.
The union is now asking for arbitration and holding rotating strikes throughout the province, which included Swift Current May 13. SAHO members took a break from striking May 18 after picketing in Regina for three days. They resumed May 25 in Yorkton and Melville.

SAHO is not willing to go to arbitration.

According to the province-wide telephone of 812 residents conducted by Points West Consulting from May 16-18, people would like to see the matter settled by an independent arbitrator.

When asked “Would you support or oppose independent, binding arbitration as a way to settle the current contract dispute between Health Sciences and health care employers,” 37.1 per cent of respondents said they strongly support it while 30.4 per cent said they somewhat support it. Eleven per cent of the respondents replied with “depends” or didn’t know or refused to answer. The poll, which has a margin of error +/- 3.4 per cent to a 95 per cent confidence level, also showed 40.6 per cent of respondents thought the government’s Essential Services Legislation somewhat or strongly hurt contract negotiations in Saskatchewan health care. More than 35 per cent of the respondents, however, didn’t know or refused or found no difference.

With the support of the majority of the province’s citizens, Dickson is hoping SAHO will start to consider allowing arbitration.

According to Premier Brad Wall, there may be a possibility of that, but HSAS will have to give up something in return.

“In other provinces there is binding arbitration, but, you know what? Unions give up the right to strike completely in many of those cases. In fact, all of them that we’re aware of,” said Wall. “I have not heard the union say they completely want to give up the right to strike. I guess if they do, we can talk about that.”

Dickson finds the prospect interesting but won’t act on the Premier’s words until she is contacted by SAHO or a government representative officially putting that offer on the table.

“I suppose he has our number and knows how to get a hold of us and he hasn’t,” said Dickson. “I’m not sure what that says. Maybe he was putting out feelers. We’d certainly be open to talk about it and it’s something that has to be negotiated and part of the negotiation process, so why not?”

Dickson said HSAS and SAHO are at a stalemate at the bargaining table but hopes Wall’s statement means progress is being made in the union going to arbitration. Until she hears more, she said her union will continue with its job action plan, which she is keeping close to her chest.

“We’re still keeping it to ourselves,” she said. “We have very little control over things any more and this is one thing we have control over and we’re keeping it.”

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