EDMONTON – Alberta nurses are setting up information pickets at care homes and hospitals Wednesday to send a message to the Kenney government.
It’s a part of the nursing union’s day of action over the province’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and proposed wage cuts.
Cameron Westhead with the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) says frontline workers have borne the brunt of the provincial government’s lack of action during the pandemic and the latest move to lift remaining health protocols adds to the uncertainty.
“Now we don’t even have data to make a decision on if we should reimplement restrictions or not,” he said.
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“It is kind of like a freight train is potentially coming at you in a dark tunnel, but all the lights are off. So, we don’t know if it’s coming our way or if it’s going to hit us or what’s going to happen.”
Westhead says wage rollbacks proposed before the pandemic are now even bigger.
“It’s really demoralizing… to have that insulting proposal hanging over our heads the entire pandemic,” he shared.
“Nurses have had to think about what they might have to do if they lose their job or if their wages are cut or if the working conditions are worsened.”
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The UNA says nurses are exhausted and overworked and being asked to take a pay cut on top of that is a kick in the teeth.
The union also says wage rollbacks that the government is proposing won’t help the province attract or retain healthcare workers.
UNA’s information walks will be taking place at four Calgary hospitals and six health centres in Edmonton.
Nurses at several other medical centres, including in Red Deer, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, and other towns, will also be setting up information walks.
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A provincial coalition of people, social justice groups, unions, churches, and other service organizations is giving the nurses a boost.
Friends of Medicare says it stands in solidarity with the province’s healthcare staff.
The group says Albertans know how invaluable nurses are, but the people leading the province have continued to disrespect the healthcare industry.
“These front-line workers have literally put their own lives at risk to save the lives of countless Albertans,” said Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare.
“After a year and a half of this pandemic, health care workers are exhausted, and now they’re handed a pay cut? The government is making it extremely clear how little they value not only our vital health care workers, but all the Albertans who depend on the care those workers provide.”
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Azocar says care in Alberta has already begun to suffer from staffing shortages affecting several communities. Some health centres and hospitals have had to close beds, but Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the government have maintained that there are no major shortages and there is enough staff to go around.
She says the UCP continues to worsen the staffing crisis and is jeopardizing patient safety.
“Regardless of what this government tries to claim, we’re still in a pandemic. Now is when we should be strengthening our public health care system, and doing everything we can to support health care workers to provide the best possible care to patients,” added Azocar.
“We should count ourselves lucky that we still have nurses who are willing to put it all on the line for their communities, yet this government seems intent on undermining our public health care system and the invaluable workers who keep it going.”