AHS wants to cut social worker wages by 10.9%

Alberta Health Services is calling for rollbacks for 12 classifications of HSAA workers, at an average of -5.36%

In an email sent out to its members this week, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta outlined the opening proposal its employers, Alberta Health Services, brought to the bargaining process.

I was sent a copy of this email from an HSAA member.

HSAA most recent collective agreement expired 31 March 2020. As of the end of this month, they will be two years without a contract. On top of that, HSAA workers haven’t seen any wage increases since 2015.

AHS has proposed wage rollbacks for over half of HSAA workers, retroactive to 1 April 2020; however, the size of the rollbacks varies depending on profession.

Pharmacy technician-10.93%
Social worker-10.90%
Speech language pathologist-8.69%
Respiratory therapist-8.05%
Health information management professional-7.49%
Occupational therapist-5.39%
Therapy assistant-2.35%
Diagnostic sonographer-1.87%
Advanced care paramedic-0.28%

That’s an average wage rollback of 5.36%.

Given that HSAA workers haven’t seen a wage increase since 2015, this means these wage rollbacks—if approved—will put their wages back to where they were over a decade ago.

The email claims that AHS’s stance is HSAA wages are higher than comparator provinces, based on findings within the 2019 McKinnon report. What HSAA points out, however, is that Alberta workers as a whole—not just public sector workers, let alone HSAA workers—make 14% more than their counterparts in those same comparator provinces.

In other words, HSAA workers are higher paid than those in other provinces, because Alberta workers in general have a higher median wage than workers in other provinces.

Once the rollbacks are implemented, AHS proposes wage freezes until 1 April 2023, when HSAA workers will receive a 1% wage increase.

As a result, after the rollbacks and the small wage increase in 2023, only dieticians and advanced care paramedics will see a net increase in pay. But even those won’t be even close enough to cover the cost of inflation in 2023, let alone all 4 years of the contract.

HSAA’s proposals were indexing wage increases to inflation and then added an extra 1.5% in 2020 and 1% in the other 3 years:

  • 2020: 2.6%
  • 2021: 4.2%
  • 2022: 4.74%
  • 2023: 3.66%

These increases would apply to all workers.

HSAA also proposed a one-time pandemic bonus, which they called a premium payment, of 1% of the basic rate of pay for all paid hours in 2021. United Nurses of Alberta received a similar payment.

In addition to the wage cuts, AHS proposed cutting flex-spending accounts by 60%.

Flex spending accounts are used by workers to spend on health care. They could use it to cover prescription and dental copays, for example. Employers use flex spending accounts as a way to balance out their providing fewer health benefits than members of other unions receive.

AHS has also proposed the following changes, which can affect not only wages but also the well-being of HSAA workers.

  • Reduced hours between shifts from 15 to 12 hours
  • Increase number of shifts in a row from 6 to 7
  • Reduced statutory holiday differentials
  • Hours of work eligible for shift differential reduced from 15:00–23:00 to 19:00–23:00
  • Hours of work eligible for night differential reduced to 23:00–07:00
  • Hours of work eligible for weekend differential reduced from 64 to a 48-hour period
  • Similar reduction in eligible hours on shift and weekend premiums for EMS Core/Flex
  • Elimination of free parking
  • Expanding temporary postings from 12 to 24 months
  • Reduced time off to attend funerals
  • Billing union for employee time spent on steward business

HSAA and AHS will meet together again 29 March for further bargaining. The two parties have bargained for 16 days, and have signed off on over 40 articles.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

5 replies on “AHS wants to cut social worker wages by 10.9%”

I’m an AHS social worker. After putting in extra time over COVID, redeploying to work the mental health helplines, years of being told by Kenney that I am not really a worthwhile contributor to AB healthcare, I am almost done with AHS. I left the O & G sector years ago to get my masters in social work. I didn’t do it because I had other no other options. I did it because I truly believed in contributing (the past tense is intentional). I am absolutely demoralized. I can say that now I will never work another day unless I feel 100% well – no more working with a headache or after a poor sleep worrying about my work. No more working a bit of unpaid OT because I think it is just my responsibility to get things done. I will punch out exactly on time. No more eating lunch at my computer.

Thank you for all your dedication, commitment and hard work, Jennifer. I can only imagine how demoralizing it’s been for you and all other frontline & essential workers. (I’m an MSW, too, but not employed.) I’ve been exchanging emails about this with other social workers ever since the announcement. Clearly, we need to work together to speak out about these reprehensible proposals. Interesting timing since Bill 30 kneecapped all Colleges, forcing divestiture of their associations. ACSW will not speak up for us. Hoping Calgary Social Workers for Social Justice and the Alberta Assembly of Social Workers can garner a lot of support for fighting back.

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