AUPE members should speak out now against privatization
Government changes threaten health care and jobs
The UCP government wants to hand over as much of the health-care system as it can to corporations, so they can profit from sick and injured Albertans.
That is the real purpose of Bill 30: Health Statutes Amendment Act, which was introduced in the Alberta Legislature last week (July 6, 2020).
Bill 30 opens the door to many more surgeries being done by for-profit companies instead of being performed in the public system in hospitals.
It will also lead to more private clinics offering two-tier health care, like that of the U.S., which allows people who have the money to pay extra and jump the queue to get treatment quicker than the rest of us.
How does Bill 30 tie into other privatization plans?
If passed, Bill 30 will be the first step in the UCP’s Alberta Surgical Initiative plan, which was proposed in the $2-million Ernst and Young report the government commissioned back in 2019 to help them ways to cut corners in Alberta’s public health-care system.
The performance review cited such sources as the Fraser Institute, an extreme, right-wing political pressure group, to back up its claims.
Presented on February 3, it recommends $1.9-billion in funding cuts to Alberta Health Services (AHS), largely by way of privatization, which would result in a number of health-care services being sold off to money-makers.
In a June 24 telephone town hall with UCP MLAs, Health Minister Tyler Shandro indicated the Alberta government will be reviewing the Ernst & Young report to see which recommendations are feasible and which are not on Aug. 13.
The pandemic may have delayed some of the actions in the report, but now the clock is ticking for Albertans.
AUPE members know the best way to combat privatization is to stop it before it happens. If we’re going to save our jobs and ensure all Albertans have access to the quality care they deserve, we need to keep organizing and never stop.
Why is allowing corporations to profit from health care a problem?
Every dollar a corporation makes in profit is a dollar not spent on health care. What’s more, two-tier health care drains resources from the public health-care system. For example, if doctors can make more money working in private care, they will abandon the public system.
This means longer wait times for Albertans who can’t afford to skip the line-up.
Meanwhile, private, for-profit operators will take on only the simplest cases on which they make the most money, while difficult and costly procedures will be left to a public system that’s already short of resources.
Unlike the UCP, AUPE thinks patients are more important than profits, and should not be sacrificed for get-rich-fast schemes.
What effect does the profit motive have on health-care workers?
There are only a few ways a corporation can squeeze profit out of publicly funded health care. They can:
1) Cut corners on care and lower standards;
2) Pay workers less, and have fewer staff; and/or
3) Charge extra fees.
All three of these are bad news for patients, but also for workers. In a two-tiered health-care system, there are fewer jobs, they pay less, are less secure, have worse benefits and often mean the loss of pension plans and any hope of retirement security.
We need look no further than Alberta’s continuing-care system to understand the devastating effects of privatizing health care.
Private, for-profit and not-for-profit facilities have proliferated in this industry, which has led to a pattern where few facilities offer stable full-time work. That means many workers are forced to work two or three part-time jobs just to make ends meet.
The Health Statutes Amendment Act doesn’t mention our jobs. Are we at risk?
Yes – if the Ernst & Young report, which was conducted by a consulting firm hand-picked by the UCP, is any indicator.
Beyond expanding the privatization of surgical clinics, it recommends wide-ranging cuts, including key services such as laundry, housekeeping, food services, hospital security, home care, and the sell off of long-term care spaces including CapitalCare and Carewest. It also recommended rollbacks for workers.
You can read the full list of recommendations here.
If CapitalCare and Carewest are sold off to corporations, workers will likely no longer be able to stay in the Local Authorities Pension Plan (LAPP), a stable defined-benefit plan that provides a predictable income when workers retire.
Most private operators offer defined-contribution pensions or RRSP contributions, which leave retirees exposed to the ups and downs of the volatile stock market.
Within AHS, General Support Services (GSS) members of AUPE should expect to see the government attempt to outsource their jobs to private companies that pay less and deny access to good pensions.
What can we do to protect ourselves?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, AUPE members were organizing to fight back against cuts to services, jobs and working conditions.
That fight was rightly put on hold as front-line workers focused all of their attention on battling the pandemic and caring for Albertans.
However, as the government presses ahead with measures that endanger not only workers, but all Albertans, we will need to resume that fight.
Work is already under way. Members employed by Carewest and CapitalCare organized phone banks to talk to each other about the threat of a wholesale sell-off of the two facilities and what can be done to stop it, in lieu of the anti-privatization rally they were planning just as the pandemic hit Alberta.
To find out more, talk to your Local or Chapter chairs, watch your emails and stay tuned to the AUPE website.
Phone and email Health Minister Tyler Shandro at 780-427-3665 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
When you call, politely but firmly request a call with your Health Minister to discuss these issues. Be persistent but fair with the staff you talk to.
Tell him you will not stand for the sale of Carewest and CapitalCare to the private sector, and that this move would be short sighted and dangerous in the wake of a pandemic where the majority of COVID-related deaths were at long-term care facilities because the private sector was ill equipped to support workers and residents.
We have seen this before. We know how it works.
Canadians have seen attempts to privatize surgeries and outsource support jobs before. It has been a debacle.
You can read more of that history here (link to Alberta’s big sickness story here.
Corporations can go bankrupt and leave patients in the lurch. Laundry can be outsourced to companies that don’t do the job to hospital standards and slash pay rates for workers.
Meanwhile, these efforts fail to reduce wait times for patients or save money.
Let’s not let this happen any more. Talk to your co-workers and fight back today.