Unions for health-care workers have rejected proposals from the province to extend labour negotiation delays until the summer.
Bargaining teams for general support services and nursing care have rejected a proposal from Alberta Health Services to extend an existing memorandum of agreement (MOA) delaying labour negotiations until June 30, according to Friday news releases from the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).
The MOA was agreed to in January and is set to expire on March 31.
A statement released Saturday by Finance Minister Travis Toews said an additional extension would have provided job security, isolation pay, additional paid leave and other benefits.
"It's disappointing to see that AUPE has turned down the COVID supports and protections for its members and is instead wanting AHS to shift its focus away from the pandemic and to their labour demands," he said in the statement.
AUPE president Guy Smith said in an email that Toews should protect workers and not hold those supports "hostage as a bargaining chip."
"We believe frontline health-care heroes deserve better than that. That is why we rejected this offer."
UNA also rejects extension
The rejection follows a decision from the United Nurses of Alberta to forego a similar extension proposal earlier this week.
David Harrigan, director of labour relations for UNA, says it's "nonsensical" for the government to negotiate with other groups but put theirs on hold.
"The government is negotiating with AUPE for the government employees, they were able to negotiate with the physicians, with the AMA, and we don't think there's any valid reason why they can't negotiate with us," he said.
In late February, the province announced a tentative deal with the Alberta Medical Association after being locked in a bitter dispute with physicians for more than a year.
A special meeting of the AMA's governing body will determine whether the agreement will proceed to a ratification vote.
Harrigan wants the province back at the table for a new collective agreement.
"Instead of just putting it on hold, putting it on hold. I think what's really happening is the government still continues to plan for massive layoffs and massive rollbacks," he said.
Harrigan said he believes the province is avoiding the bargaining table to hide plans for layoffs and rollbacks.
A plan unveiled in late 2019 would see 500 nursing positions eliminated over three years, a figure the UNA says is equivalent to more than 700 employees losing their jobs once job sharing is factored in.
The layoff plan was put on hiatus in March 2020, when Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Toews announced there would be no nurses let go during the pandemic.
On Thursday, following UNA's rejection, Toews said in a statement that he was hopeful other unions would not follow its lead.
AUPE said an MOA extension proposal has also been sent by Covenant Health to its general support services and nursing care bargaining teams.