Stop the AHS Layoffs! Defend Public Health Care and Workers’ Rights!

For a General Strike to Kick Out Jason Kenny and the UCP!

On October 18 the United Conservative Party adopted a plan for a privately-funded, privately-managed health care system to operate alongside the public Alberta Health Services (AHS). The decision comes hard on the heels of the announcement by Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro on October 13 of massive AHS outsourcing that will result in the layoff of 11,000 employees.

The layoffs are part of a UCP initiative to privatize health care — by any means necessary. Jobs will be lost due to outsourcing of vital supports such as food preparation, laundry, housekeeping, and community lab services.  Coupled with an outright private option for health care, the cuts will devastate Alberta’s public health care system by diverting money into the pockets of private companies and slashing workers’ wages in the sector.

Shandro repeatedly said that AHS layoffs will not affect front-line nurses during the pandemic. However, a letter sent October 13 from Lee McEwan, Executive Director of Negotiations and Labour Relations of AHS to United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) outlines that AHS plans to cut 500 full time equivalent jobs. Union reps say that this will result in up to 750 nurses being laid off.

These attacks on the AHS and its workers are no surprise as the UCP government has consistently passed anti-labour legislation, such as Bill 1 and Bill 32, since 2019.  At the same time, the UCP provided $4.7 billion in corporate tax cuts, resulting in lost revenue to Alberta’s treasury. Shamefully, the UCP now attempts to compensate for lost billions with a measly $600 million ‘savings’ plan that will cut and outsource vital health-care jobs in the midst of a pandemic.

Bill 1 threatens demonstrators with fines of $10,000 for protesting on ‘essential infrastructure’ – a deliberately vague stipulation that could apply to a picketer on any sidewalk or building entrance.

Bill 32 introduces many anti-labor benefits to employers, such as allowing bosses to unilaterally impose wage averaging on employees, while extending the range of these agreements from 12 weeks to 52 weeks. It also restricts the rights of unions, and imposes significant negative changes to the Employment Standards Code.

Wage averaging means that an employer can calculate overtime worked over days where there was no work, or less work, so that it is no longer considered overtime. Thus, a 16-hour work day followed by a 0-hour day would be deemed to contain no overtime hours.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenny’s UCP is pushing for an American-style private health-care system and for corporate control of Alberta assets. In the face of so many blatant attacks on Alberta workers and the public sector, unions such as the Alberta Union of Public Employees, the Alberta Federation of Labour, and UNA are on the move.

On October 26 wildcat strikes, led by front-line AHS workers, erupted around the province to protest the announced cuts. Militant energy spread across the province with hundreds striking in over 45 cities. The following day the AHS got a court injunction which ended the walkouts.

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) announced a province-wide campaign against the UCP government, including plans for mass strikes, even mentioning a general strike. It declared the UCP anti-Alberta. The AFL launched a public website for joint action ( http://www.standuptokenney.ca ) Patience with the cuts is shrinking fast.

Socialist Action strongly urges all workers, unions, NDP electoral district associations, women’s, seniors’, students’, tenants’, LGBTQI, migrants’ and community organizations to unite.  Now is the time for escalating mass protests, up to and including a general strike to smash the attacks on the working class and its allies.  Stand up for labour rights and for a public, top quality health-care system.  Kick out Jason Kenny and the UCP!