Premier must speak up on health workers contract talks
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.
Considering staff shortages are the main cause of long wait times for surgery, diagnostic testing and emergency-room services, it’s bewildering how the Stefanson government has allowed allied health workers to go more than five years without a contract.
Manitoba isn’t just short of nurses and doctors. Hospitals and health authorities have vacancies in a wide range of areas. That’s problematic, since most medical services are delivered by multiple health-care professionals.
Surgeons can’t perform operations without nurses, and patients can’t be diagnosed for medical interventions without diagnostic imaging or laboratory technologists.
When the chain breaks, the system fails. It’s failing now — badly.
The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals represents 44 specialized professions, including respiratory therapists, paramedics and emergency dispatchers. About 7,000 of them are represented by the union. Many have been without a contract since at least 2018.
Without them, the health-care system doesn’t work. They may not get the same public attention as doctors and nurses, but their work and expertise is every bit as crucial.
Long wait times for medical services such as MRIs, ultrasounds and CT scans are caused mostly by a shortage of allied health-care staff. Hospitals have the space and equipment to expand services in those areas. What they don’t have is adequate staffing.
The province is having difficulty recruiting allied health workers, in part, because of how poorly they treat them. The MAHCP released data earlier this month showing a net loss of 51 staff since the Stefanson government launched its so-called health-care recruitment initiative in November.
Who wants to work for an employer that deprives workers of a contract for more than five years? Without a new collective agreement, employees don’t know what their pay and benefits were for the past five years (they’re paid based on an expired contract) and no clue what they’ll be in the future. That’s especially egregious considering current high inflation rates.
So what is the Stefanson government doing about it? Nothing.
The premier recently suggested she has no power to affect the stalled talks and it’s up to Shared Health, one of the five bureaucracies that now run health care, to negotiate a new deal.
She’s wrong, of course.
Shared Heath is a provincial agency created by the Tories. It is not an independent organization that makes its own decisions. Shared Health executives are accountable to cabinet. They report to the premier, who ultimately calls the shots.
That doesn’t mean politicians should be directly involved in contract talks. However, they have a duty and responsibility to provide direction to government departments and agencies, including when it comes to human resources management. That means approving adequate funding to negotiate collective agreements.
Stefanson has failed to do that in spades when it comes to front-line health workers.
Going more than five years without a contract is not an acceptable delay in the normal course of collective bargaining. It’s a policy choice by government that is negatively affecting the quality of health care in Manitoba.
The Tories did the same thing with nurses, who went more than four years without a contract until 2021. Government now wonders why the province is short of nurses.
When employers treat staff as expendable, they don’t tend to stick around.
The Stefanson government has the money to negotiate a fair deal with allied health workers. Manitoba received a windfall from Ottawa this year in transfer payments, including a significant boost in the Canada Health Transfer.
The whole point of increasing transfers to the provinces was to beef up spending on health care. The money is supposed to be used in large part to recruit and retain front-line workers. That means negotiating fair and competitive deals.
Instead, the Stefanson government is using some of that new money to cut taxes. It’s precisely what the federal government feared when provinces were clamouring for more health-care dollars from Ottawa.
The premier has the authority and the political responsibility to provide direction and resources to authorities to negotiate a fair contract with allied health workers.
That’s her job, which she is not doing very well.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.