Allied health workers bring contract talk frustration to legislature
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
Allied health workers are calling for the Progressive Conservative government to come to the table amid protracted contract negotiations with the provincial health authority. However, Tory officials say they won’t get involved.
“(Government) needs to fund Shared Health appropriately, so that it can… make an offer that’s competitive,” Jason Linklater, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, said Tuesday.
“We cannot retain people, and we certainly are not going to recruit allied health professionals unless the wages are acceptable.”
The union represents 44 specialized professions, including paramedics and emergency dispatchers, diagnostic imaging and laboratory technologists, mental health and addictions counsellors, and respiratory therapists.
Roughly 7,000 regional health employees are involved with the union, many of whom have been without a contract for more than five years. A strike vote held April 14 logged 99.3 per cent support.
Union officials have entered into mediation with Shared Health, but Linklater believes a lack of funding from the PC government is limiting the provincial health authority’s ability to offer fair wages.
MAHCP gathered with more than 100 union members at the Manitoba legislature Tuesday to demand government support.
Liberal and New Democrat officials took aim at the Tories during question period, asking whether the province is willing prepared to support negotiations.
In response, Premier Heather Stefanson distanced her party from Shared Health, saying the government is not the primary employer and it would respect the organization’s right to negotiate its own collective agreement.
“We encourage them to come to a swift conclusion,” she said.
Opposition Leader Wab Kinew criticized the response.
“This government created Shared Health, they appoint the board of directors… they control Shared Health entirely, and yet, it’s under their watch that there has been no deal,” he said.
Stefanson accused Kinew of “fear-mongering” and “inflaming” the situation.
Allied health-care workers elsewhere in the country are earning up to 30 per cent more than those in Manitoba, where wages have been frozen since 2017, Linklater said.
Neither side have finalized their terms, but the union wants wages to match those in the rest of Canada. It is willing to remain at the bargaining table as long as there is hope for a “fair deal,” Linklater said.
If negotiations collapse, Manitobans could suffer diagnostic delays, health-care service interruptions and delayed emergency response times, the union warned.
“There are essential service agreements in place so that essential health needs are met… but there certainly would not be the regular levels of service,” Linklater said. “Frankly, with the staffing crisis we have at the moment, this would be a last resort on our part.”
Rural areas are among those hardest hit by staffing shortages, with paramedic vacancy rates are as high as 40 per cent, causing emergency response times to increase, advocates said.
Many first responders are burning out and quitting or seeking work in Winnipeg, where wages are higher, said Matt Hollingshead, union treasurer and a paramedic in the Interlake region.
“Its frustrating not being able to take calls when people need us most… That is, unfortunately, sometimes the time between life and death,” he said.
The provincial vacancy rate for laboratory and diagnostic imaging specialists has nearly doubled since March 2022, and is now sitting at around 16.2 per cent, the union said.
Last week, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said the province has bolstered its ranks with 82 new allied health professionals since November.
However, Linklater said, at least 151 others have left in the same period.
“It’s absolutely misleading, and it’s something I don’t think Manitobans are willing to accept. They need to know the full story, they want to know the situation they are in, and they need to be provided the truth when it comes to accessing health care,” the union leader said.
“It’s very clear that the staffing crisis is not improving at all. It’s getting worse.”
Shared Health said Tuesday it looks forward to concluding negotiations and securing a fair, long-term contract.
The week of May 14 is enshrined in provincial legislation as Allied Healthcare Professionals Recognition Week.
Updated on Wednesday, May 17, 2023 8:52 AM CDT: Corrects reference in cutline to medical laboratory technologists