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Health-care union warns Saskatchewan premier of possible job action


June 8, 2020
By Stephanie Taylor/The Canadian Press

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REGINA — A union representing more than 12,000 health-care and long-term care workers in Saskatchewan has written to the premier warning of job action if there is no change in negotiations.

Service Employees International Union West says that in late May a bargaining agent for the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations shut down a collective bargaining session and nothing has happened since then.

In a letter to the premier and health and labour relations ministers, union president Barbara Cape says members are frustrated and want action.

“I am angry that this is what the bargaining agent for the provincial health authority chose to do in the middle of a pandemic,” she said.

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The union’s members include licensed practical nurses, continuing- care aids, maintenance and recreational staff, and workers in long-term care, acute care and home-care facilities.

Cape said workers are on the front lines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s no time for labour strife.

On Friday, Saskatchewan reported one new case of COVID-19, bringing the provincial total to 649 cases, with 27 of them thought to be active.

“There’s a really protracted process set out in the Saskatchewan Employment Act that we have to follow and this is, quite frankly, a heads up to government: We’re going there,” said Cape.

“We’re continuing to bargain for what our members asked for. When they rejected a tentative agreement a year ago they said that zero, zero, one, two and two (per cent) is not enough for what we do,” Cape said of general wage increases.

Premier Scott Moe’s office said in a statement that bargaining representatives are willing to return to the table for further negotiations.

Spokesman Jim Billington said it would be inappropriate for ministers to get involved.

“The government of Saskatchewan respects the collective bargaining process and remains confident that a negotiated settlement can be reached,” he said.

Back in December, SEIU-West members gave their bargaining committee a job-action mandate to secure a contract, which they have been without for three years.

Public-sector workers in Saskatchewan have to deal with essential services legislation and an agreement would have to be in place before any strike.

“Unless your government immediately empowers and enforces (Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations) and the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s mandate to bargain in good faith and provide a greatly improved, genuine offer for our members, SEIU-West is prepared to do all in our legislated power to allow our members to exercise their constitutional right to take job action,” the union’s letter reads.