Alberta health staff return to work, surgeries resume after one-day walkout

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EDMONTON — Hospital and health-care workers who staged a one-day illegal walkout returned to work Tuesday while politicians swapped recriminations and accusations in the house over the dispute.

Alberta Health Services reported no service disruptions and a return to scheduled surgeries one day after hundreds of workers, including aides and support staff, walked off the job at about 30 sites throughout the province, including hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary.

Late Monday night, the Alberta Labour Relations Board ruled the job action illegal and the workers’ union, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, said it would urge staffers to return to work.

They had walked out to protest plans announced earlier this month by the United Conservative government to eliminate 11,000 jobs and privatize more lab and laundry services to save money. Health Minister Tyler Shandro had said nursing and other front-line clinical staff would not be affected.

The AUPE represents about 58,000 health care workers.

AHS estimated 157 non-emergency surgeries, most of them in Edmonton, had to be postponed as a result of the walkout. That is on top of the elective surgeries postponed in Edmonton last week due to strain on the system caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the legislature, the Opposition NDP critic Janis Irwin accused Shandro of shabbily treating critical front-line workers.

“These folks put their lives on the line to serve Albertans, and they deserve our respect and dignity, not your government’s constant attacks,” Irwin told the house during question period.

“What message do you have for these dedicated workers?”

Shandro replied, “This is pure hypocrisy from the NDP.

“We are doing what exactly the NDP did. They had 68 per cent of laundry jobs throughout the province contracted out in Calgary and Edmonton.

“The NDP are not fighting for patients. They’re not fighting for the workers either. They’re fighting for the six-figure salaries of their union bosses.”

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said her party did not initiate any privatization of those health services during its previous four years in government.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2020.

The Canadian Press