The Saskatchewan Party government has forced health care workers back into provisions of an expired letter of understanding (LOU), while doing nothing to stem the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
We let you know on September 3rd that the SHA had approached the health care unions, including CUPE, to discuss solutions for staffing to deal with exponentially increasing COVID-19 needs. We met with the SHA on August 27th, where they provided an overview of what they saw as the problem and pressure points on the health care system. We met again on September 1st, where we discussed the SHA’s plan for slowdowns and were provided with a clip from the physician’s town hall, showing modelling. Again, the SHA showed that the system is under pressure, in particular without the temporary LOU. We met again on September 7th, where the employer provided proposed language for a new LOU. CUPE, together with the other provider unions SEIU-West and SGEU-Health Providers, provided a response – a counter proposal on the afternoon of September 13th.
We were in the process of emailing future dates to the SHA to continue the discussions and debriefing the afternoon’s meeting when the government announced that they were using The Emergency Planning Act, and the provisions within, to have a minister’s order “reinstating” the expired LOU. Essentially, they did this while the seats at the bargaining table were still warm. We believe that the decision was made and communicated without the Ministry of Health even being briefed on how the discussions of the afternoon had gone. That declaration can be found in a PDF document here. The announcement can be found here.
Some of the problems that we were trying to fix for our members in our discussions around a new letter of understanding with the SHA included: providing workers with some ability to choose what they do and where they do it; a provision to give some respite from COVID-19 work when needed; having a mechanism to resolve issues and disputes with the application of the letter of understanding in a timely manner; and generally wanting the workers to be considered – their situations, skills, needs, and wants. The previous letter of understanding was used as a weapon to force workers into situations without care or concern for them. In most instances the SHA refused to resolve or even discuss individual situations no matter how dire a situation a worker was in. Repeatedly the employer showed callous disregard for their employees no matter what the unions tried or how desperate the workers were. Many ended up leaving.
Immediately following the government’s announcement about reinstating the LOU, an email was sent to all users of the SHA site (employees) from Mike Northcott, Chief Human Resources Officer of the Saskatchewan Health Authority. The email was to announce that the previous letter of understanding was reinstated. The information in the email was insulting and misleading. First, he states that we are all in this together. We are not all in this together when the only solution they managed to come up with was to deprive the unions of their bargaining rights, thereby imposing working conditions proven to be detrimental and unsustainable on an already exhausted and overextended workforce. And we are certainly not in this together when they imposed this decision without warning, while the unions were at the table attempting to meet the rising COVID-19 needs.
Second, he says that the “parties to the agreement are the SHA, SAHO and the five unions representing health care workers”. Let us be perfectly clear – there is no agreement. The letter of understanding expired on August 8th. CUPE is not a party to the agreement because there is no agreement. There is an expired letter of understanding that the Government of Saskatchewan is imposing through The Emergency Planning Act.
This was a shameful day in the Saskatchewan Party government’s handling of the pandemic.
On this same day the government quashed bargaining and imposed conditions on health care workers, September 13th, four people from our province died, and we had a record number of COVID-19 cases.
This week the government is deciding what “elective or non-critical” services they are going to reduce or suspend altogether. The exact plans for the reduction in this fourth wave have not been made public. We do know that in December of 2020, the service slowdown announced to the public included surgery, endoscopy, primary health care, diagnostics, therapies, rehabilitation services, and home care. We don’t believe that Saskatchewan citizens should be without these services that seem critical to us.
This week the government also announced that they were expanding ICU beds to meet COVID-19 needs.
What didn’t happen this week? The Government of Saskatchewan did not bring forward any additional public health measures designed to stem the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. We have been asking for and have seen others asking for a mandatory indoor masking policy to be ordered. The government’s own modelling predicts that this one measure could reduce the cases by 50 per cent. Fewer cases would create health care capacity.
The government has made it clear that record cases and more deaths aren’t enough to constitute an emergency order for mandatory masks in an indoor place; but they do cause health care workers’ rights to be trampled on. They call health care workers, you, heroes, but then place the entire burden of the pandemic on your shoulders to carry.
We strongly condemn the actions of this government, which has imposed conditions of employment on health care workers, circumventing collective agreement language and trampling on rights of association (right to collective bargaining).
We implore the SHA to improve the way they use the provisions being imposed and caution them that many of our members are at their breaking point. We read in today’s “Daily Rounds” that they say they are committed to working with unions to more effectively implement the LOU. Health care workers are not simply “resources” to be deployed, redeployed, and redeployed again.
The only option for some health care workers may now be to leave health care.
We want to hear from you. You can find the expired LOU here. Please let your regional office know if the employer is going outside of the provisions of the collective agreement or the letter of understanding.
- Main office: 306-546-2185