Health sciences workers strike in PA

By Ryan Pilon
June 21, 2011 - 6:39am

Rotating strikes by members of the Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan returned to Prince Albert on Monday morning.

This is the seventh week of rotating healthcare strikes in the province, which, according to HSAS President Cathy Dickson, is the longest in Saskatchewan‘s history.

Despite the lengthy contract dispute, Dickson said members are refusing to give up the fight.

“It was pouring down rain and I had people coming to me saying, ‘Keep us out all day if you need to,’” said Dickson.

Dickson said she isn’t pleased with the Public Service Essential Services Act, which has deemed about 50 per cent of HSAS’ members as essential, and therefore, cannot go on strike.

“This unfair, unbalanced legislation has encouraged health care employers to drag out contract negotiations unnecessarily, hoping health care workers will simply give in,” said Dickson.

Marj Gavigan, the director of member relations for the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations, the organizations representing health employers, said she doesn’t believe the legislation has affected contract negotiations.

“Essential services legislation was put into place to protect the public, not for any other reason than to allow the public to access health care when they need it,” Gavigan said.

“We’re still interested in getting the negotiations completed. That’s the ultimate objective.”

Even with 50 per cent of employee’s forced to continue working, healthcare has still been affected by the strike, she said.

“The strike is certainly having some impact on the region’s ability to provide 100 per cent of the service that we would normally provide.”

Dickson said she believes having so many employees being deemed as “essential” by the province may work in their favour, as it will be hard for the government to explain avoiding arbitration.

SAHO is not looking at arbitration at this point, and is hoping the union will allow its members to vote on its final offer, Gavigan said.

SAHO tabled a final offer to the union on June 8 of seven-and-a-half per cent over four years for all health sciences workers, plus additional market-based increases for about 85 per cent of workers.

HSAS tabled a counter offer of 14.5 per cent over four years and asked for other measures like retroactive pay to the end of the union’s previous contract.

The counter offer was rejected and Gavigan said except for minor tweaking, they are not budging on their final offer.

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