Regional health authorities say Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan employees ‘good to work with’
The Saskatchewan Party government’s deep contempt for working people, especially those belonging to unions, could very well damage the positive working relationship that the regional health authorities (RHA) say it has with striking Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan (HSAS) employees.
According to a Ministry of Health briefing note dated October 6, 2010, feedback regarding the priority of current tabled items was sought from the RHA’s last summer in order to ensure a fully informed bargaining process between the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO) and the union.
Collective agreement articles were reviewed by the RHA’s with respect to alignment with the Wall government’s Strategic and Operational Directions for the Health Sector.
Eleven of the twelve provincial RHA’s responded to a letter dated July 27, 2010, requesting feedback on the currently tabled articles. Keewatin Yatthe Regional Health Authority was the only RHA that did not respond.
“Overall message from the RHA’s is that the package is quite reasonable, but they are willing to live with the removal of items if necessary, as HSAS employees are quite good to work with,” the six-page document states. “There was very little outright opposition to any of the outlined initiatives.”
Unfortunately, health ministry officials blacked out most of the remaining five pages.
The briefing note was one of 10 (totaling 33 pages) that were recently released by the health ministry under an access to information request. The majority of the records were heavily censored.
The collective agreement with HSAS expired on March 31, 2009. On February 22, 2011, members voted 88 per cent in favour of job action, citing a wage increase below the cost of living, no improvements to workplace benefits, a series of contract take-aways, and a threat to eliminate retroactive pay unless members accepted SAHO’s January 27 offer before March 31.
The average wage rate of HSAS members is 25 per cent less than their counterparts in
On March 11, SAHO presented the union with what it called the employers’ “best offer,” a 7.5 per cent wage increase over four years, a marginal improvement over the 5.5 per cent SAHO initially offered on February 22. The latest offer also expands the number of classifications that would receive a market adjustment.
“We have indicated to them that although we believe this is kind of the parameters of which a settlement could be reached, we do have a little bit of room to move, but it’s very little,” said Susan Antosh, SAHO president.
“The employers’ goal is to ensure that we’re providing market-competitive wages and by that we mean market competitive in western Canadian health care to all of the workers within the health-care system.” [SAHO offer not enough: health union (StarPhoenix, March 12, 2011)]
HSAS, which represents more than 3,000 health care professionals across the province, said the offer represented “some small progress” but was “far from adequate.” The union is seeking 18.5 per cent over four years.
On April 27, HSAS called on Premier Brad Wall to agree to submit the union’s lengthy contract dispute with health care employers to independent, binding arbitration.
“After more than two years without a contract and no indication health care employers are ready or able to negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement, we believe independent, binding arbitration is the best option to prevent job action. We call on Brad Wall to act now to introduce independent, binding arbitration of our contract dispute,” Health Sciences President Cathy Dickson said in a news release.
“At the bargaining table yesterday, Health Sciences presented its fourth new contract proposal in the past four months to try to jumpstart negotiations, but health care employers, represented by SAHO (Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations), rejected our proposal, admitted they had no authority to negotiate its terms, and refused to even discuss it,” Dickson said, noting that SAHO cancelled the remainder of the bargaining sessions planned for that week.
Dickson said the union reminded SAHO of the commitment by Health Minister Don McMorris in the Legislature on March 16 to make HSAS a contract offer that would be ‘competitive’ with Alberta. Shockingly, SAHO pretended not to be aware of it and then dismissed it saying the minister was not at the table and added “we don’t know where the Minister gets his information.”
On May 9, McMorris shot down the idea of arbitration telling reporters it was premature. He confirmed that SAHO has “room to move,” but would not say whether the government had authorized more funding for a new offer. [Health workers walk the line (StarPhoenix, May 10, 2011)]
The following week Wall and SAHO both said no as well.
According to the StarPhoenix, Antosh said in an interview that binding arbitration allows for too many variables in that “arbitrators do not have to follow policy decisions and those kinds of things.”
HSAS president Cathy Dickson responded by saying, “If the government doesn’t feel comfortable with it, it’s probably because they know (their offer) is not something that’s very fair. And an arbitrator is going to look at that right off the bat.”
Dickson added that the problem is that the Saskatchewan Party government’s essential services legislation contains no independent resolution process such as arbitration.
About 50 per cent of union members have been declared “essential” under the law and cannot strike.
Meanwhile, Wall told reporters the government’s continued preference is for a negotiated settlement.
“There’s a good reason why governments of all stripes have avoided (arbitration) as a way to settle disputes. The best solutions are found at the bargaining table. We need to exhaust every possible avenue to get that, to have that resolution happen.” [HSAS ponders next move (StarPhoenix, May 17, 2011)]
It appears that after more than two years of stonewalling by SAHO and the provincial government, the only thing Wall is exhausting is the public’s patience.
On May 24, HSAS released the results of a province-wide public opinion poll conducted on behalf of the union that shows 67.5 per cent support for independent, binding arbitration to settle the current contract dispute.