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Wednesday, 01 June 2011 07:58

HSAS returning to bargaining table after threatening escalated job action

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By Chris Jaster — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan’s threat of escalated job action has brought them back to the table.

HSAS, which represents more than 3,000 specialized health care professionals, threatened escalated job action if they were not granted the right to go to arbitration May 31.

The Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations, which bargains for the health regions, responded hours after that announcement with an offer to come back to the table.

The two sides have agreed to return to the table June 8. HSAS won’t take any more job action unless talks break down again.

“I think we were responding to their latest press release,” said Susan Antosh, SAHO’s president and CEO. “What has really concerned us is not just that the union has chosen to take job action, but the method they have taken to take job action is creating a great deal of difficulty for clients and residents who use their health service. So we made the determination that we would present a revised offer.”

HSAS has been without a contract since March 31, 2009. Negotiations have not gone well. HSAS is asking for an 18.5 per cent increase in wages over four years and the promise that health regions stop practising vacancy management to create a surplus. SAHO has countered with a 7.5 per cent increase over four years.

That led HSAS to start rotating strikes throughout the province May 9. Union members had a picket line in Swift Current May 13.

Although Antosh respects the union’s right to strike, she has not been pleased with the method it has chosen.

HSAS never gave notice of where a strike would be until the morning of the event. During the early strikes, union members would not attend work forcing managers to call clients to cancel appointments. Antosh believes that methodology has changed.

“More recently, the employees have come in the morning and are pulled from the job some time during the day,” she said. “That doesn't give the employer the opportunity to contact clients and say: ‘Don't drive three hours if you have an appointment later in the day.’

“In essence, it means users of health sciences think services will be available earlier in the day but they are not available right before their appointment. It really is creating some difficulties for patients and clients.”

Cathy Dickson, the president of HSAS would like to see this labour dispute come to an end. After trying to work out an agreement for more than two years, however, she’s not very hopeful.

During this negotiating process, Dickson has learned not to get too hopeful as she usually leaves disappointed.

“Last year a couple of times we were called and I was so excited thinking ‘This is it’ and ‘We're going to be able to get it done and it will be so good for the members’ and I had to go out into the hall and cry afterward because I was so frustrated with the situation,” she said. “We've all had our little frustrations and meltdowns in our own little ways and you learn not to get excited. It's not a relief (to go back to the table), it's a wait and see.

“There is no optimism. This is not necessarily my personality, but we have to wait and see and what will be will be.”

If the offer is not acceptable to HSAS negotiators, it appears there could be more job action.
Dickson indicated she does not think a third-party mediator would accomplish anything as she believes SAHO holds all the power and HSAS has none due to the essential services legislation.

Instead, Dickson will be asking for arbitration, but Antosh said that is not an acceptable resolution to the labour dispute.

Based on that, Dickson said to expect more job action should talks break down.

“We said that if things didn't change that we would escalate,” she said. “If we go back to the table now and there's nothing and it's a bunch of game playing, it will escalate.

“We'll see how bad it is. We will keep escalating it.”

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