Pandemic seems to be neutralized but now we have a reoccurring health issue: the threat of slashing of wages and perhaps positions.

There is discussion at the contract negotiating table and in a serious game of public relations, the Alberta Federation of Labour is suggesting Alberta Health is talking serious wage cuts to nurses. 

Much like the attitude of selfish and cruel people who treat relationships as disposable i.e. the attitude is “don’t need you anymore, bye-bye”, the talk of nursing staff cuts is being raised again by the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL). 

Tell me if you have heard this before: the government says they are going to rollback wages, apparently this go around by 3 per cent. The nurses, who in many cases have been nothing short of tireless, fearless warriors during the pandemic are justifiably insulted with the crass timing. They say no. So the government says (like they did before), that jobs will have to be cut because there is no money in the coffers (except for the National Energy Centre, extra cabinet positions in such portfolios as Government Red Tape) and that the nurses will have to figure out how to get their own house in order and who to get rid of thus gaslighting and forcing the brethren to fight within themselves. 

Just a wild guess.

To kick off Alberta’s “Best Summer Ever” the AFL says the threat of job losses loom. Critics would argue because nurses with more seniority make more money, the government says they can’t afford more nurses (who make less). All of this talk is reheating as Alberta and the rest of world seems to have the pandemic, at the very least neutralized somewhat. 

This rhetoric of health care costs is not new. Prior to the pandemic, the cries of two-tiered health care coming to Alberta was being pushed for by Premier Jason Kenney and the Alberta Health minister Tyler Shandro was coming from the unions as well as medical staff. While even this government knew not to rock the boat when it came to the needed expert medical care provided by professionals during a time of a global pandemic crisis, now that the vaccines have been administered, now it is time to slash wages.  

Cliché, but time will be the judge of whether or not the pandemic is indeed under control. What seems incredulous is that time hasn’t seemed to have helped is the respect government officials have for health care workers. Just prior to and in the early stages of the pandemic, the Alberta provincial government was trying to make health care cuts to nursing staffing, they had initially tore up their contract with doctors and promised cuts to spending while privatizing different sectors of the healthcare sector such the outsourcing of each of the food, blood collecting and laundry services.

On a spreadsheet, from a cold, financial point of view, perhaps it makes sense. Less wages means more money in the government of Alberta’s coffers. From an economic point of view, it is logical. People who are either unemployed, underemployed, earn low wages, hold multiple jobs just to make ends meet or have low benefits will not have a lot of sympathy for those in the medical field who in some cases make close to six figures.  

The problem is also in the fact that the Kenney government continues to govern from a sporadic logic base.

The first issue with this trial balloon suggestion of rolling back wages is the timing. The gratitude of the public towards health care workers will never be stronger as many who may not get regular check ups or have been fortunate enough to avoid hospital visits had to meet with nurses for Covid shots or know of the heroic efforts frontline nurses and doctors put in the last 18 or so months. 

“The rollbacks and potential layoffs proposed at the negotiating table is at best, insulting. At worst, it is reckless,” says Karen Kuprys, the new Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour, who is a registered nurse. “This isn’t a new strategy. We have felt the long-lasting damaging effects from the legacy of the Klein government. The damage it causes takes decades to recover from. We know that women have not recovered economically post-Covid at the same rate as men. Nursing is still a female dominated profession so the proposal to reduce compensation for nurses, is also an equality issue.”

Kuprys added that “treating exhausted and frustrated nurses in this manner will result in worsening shortages, increased wait times and difficulty attracting and retaining future nurses.”

Second issue beside the bad timing and the optics is the illogical and very inconsistent actions of the government. Nothing makes sense…certain rules apply to only certain things and there’s a lack of trust with what is done.  

Now there are reports of emergency room beds having to be closed due to a lack of nurses. During the annual premier’s pancake breakfast at the beloved Calgary (“Please be a Success Story”) Stampede, he told reporters not to worry about it as they increased spending by $19 million so that ought to cover it as there’s an adjustment period For example, as we are well into the ‘best summer ever’, we are also back to illogical and ill-timed announcements. 

For example recently Kenney announced there would be some fireworks set for Edmonton, Red Deer and Lethbridge to celebrate the over the top pushing of the Calgary Stampede and its longtime self-proclaimed status as the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’. While it is obvious there is a lot of relationship between government and the Stampede with such clues as when the government announced one day the Stampede was going to go ahead and the next day construction was already starting …ask contractors how easy it is to mobilize that number of specialists within hours notice is, it seems like the urban economy boost was planned ahead. The fireworks will take place while there is a province-wide fire ban.  

July 8, there was a curious cabinet shuffle which included the addition of six new positions as well as the changing of the guard of a few departments, of course no one in an actual cabinet position other than Cardston’s Joseph Schow who garnered an associate position. Take for example, Ron Orr, the man who was quoted as saying Kenney “is the leader God raised up for these times” is now the Ministry of Culture, Multiculturalism, and Status of Women: let all of that sink in for a minute.

Logic, trust, faith and respect are all lacking these days. The public doesn’t seem to get into a situation where they ever feel comfortable. 

By no means is our health care system in critical condition due to the diligence of multi skilled workers on the front lines, but the reoccurring illness of hack and slashing is eroding our immune system. Trust is lacking and while the government can tell us this will be the best summer ever, let’s revisit this on Labour Day and see where we are at then.

Ryan Dahlman is the editor of Prairie Post West and Prairie Post East

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