The Tories say the Bill is little more than housekeeping - that it's simply designed to streamline administration as the province moves from 17 regional health authorities to seven.
Most mainstream media sources have bought into this version of the story. Fewer complicated union contracts? Less red tape? Great! But the reality of Bill 27 is much more sinister than the fairy tale being told by the government. Just consider what Bill 27 actually does:
- It discards in one stroke dozens of freely-negotiated contracts covering thousands of health care workers.
- It transforms the Labour Relations Board from and impartial "referee" in labour matters into an instrument for imposing inferior agreements.
- And, it opens for door for sweeping changes to the wages and working conditions of all Alberta health care workers.
Looking at the details of Bill 27, it becomes clear that this isn't really about streamlining" or reducing red tape - it's about tearing up agreements, weakening unions and trying to squeeze more out of health care workers for less.
Some Albertans might shrug and say "So what? Why should I care about what happens to health care workers and their contracts?"
Two responses to these questions come to mind. First, all Albertans should be concerned whenever the government uses its legislative power to bully its citizens and renege on agreements.
How would business people who supply services to the government feel if the provincial cabinet suddenly tore up contracts with them and said "we're going to pay you less"? That's exactly what's happening to health care workers under Bill 27.
Second, and more importantly, Albertans should be concerned and angry about Bill 27 because of the impact it will almost certainly have on patient care.
For years now, the Klein government has been chipping away at the foundations of our health care system. Budget cuts, staff shortages, privatization - we're all familiar with the what's been going on.
Through it all, the only thing that has kept the system together is the hard-work and dedication of health care workers. They've gone the extra mile - and stretched themselves thin - to maintain high quality care.
And now, what are these workers going to get in return for their commitment? Lower wages. Longer hours. Fewer full-time jobs. More night shifts. Reduced benefits. Less time with their families.
If the government thinks that attacking health care workers will somehow improve the health system, they are sadly mistaken. Sure, they may save a few dollars. But gutting contracts will also lead to lower morale, higher turn-over, and reduced capacity to attract and retain skilled workers.
Unfortunately, it seems that what we have here is a wealthy (and mean-spirited) government that wants to get health care on the cheap - and they plan to do it by putting the screws to people on the front lines.
We think our health care workers deserve better. So do Alberta patients.
Gil McGowan, AFL Executive Staff