A nurse's job is never done - and that means participating in politics and social activism, not just professional nursing - Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan told more than 700 participants at UNA's annual general meeting Thursday.
"In addition to all the important work you do in hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities, your union has been on the forefront of the defence of public health care in this province," McGowan said.
Canadian Federation of Nurses' Unions president Linda Silas warned nurses that they need to be part of the discussions about the future of the public health care system.
"Health care is facing a perfect storm because we have an increasing population, a rise of chronic disease and rising demand for public health. On the other hand you have shrinking funds from government," Silas told AGM delegates.
"We have to look beyond acute care and walk the talk about patient-centred and family-centred care," said Silas. "We need to improve primary health care and long-term care to save our health care system."
Both Silas and McGowan spoke about the need for nurses stand together to face attacks by right-wing politicians and lobby groups on working people and labour unions.
"In many ways this is the most significant fight that the labour movement has faced since at least the Second World War," said McGowan, referring to attacks on collective bargaining and pensions.
"Out of many workers, you have a pension that you can be proud of because you helped create it," McGowan said of the Local Authorities Pension Plan, which most Alberta nurses will be able to access upon retirement.
McGowan argued that right-wing politicians and lobby groups are looking to the Tea Party Republicans in the United States for their ideas to transform Canada. "This is something that has been rejected by Canadians and Albertans," said McGowan.
"We have an obligation to say no to the Tea Party agenda and stand up for the Canada we believe in," said McGowan.
UNA Convention Bulletin, Thurs Oct 25 2012
EDMONTON - The decision to prohibit Alberta nurses from holding a vote on the latest contract offer from their employers proves that Alberta's labour laws are seriously flawed, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"There is something seriously wrong with a law that makes criminals out of people who are simply trying to defend their rights in the workplace," says Audrey Cormack, president of Alberta's largest union organization.
"Nurses and other health care workers in this province have been pushed to the brink by budget cuts and under-staffing. Now they face the prospect of being branded as criminals for having the audacity to fight for a better health care system. What's really criminal here is the way the nurses are being treated by the regional health authorities and the provincial government."
Cormack says Alberta's labour laws impose more restrictions on the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively than any other province.
"In a democracy, workers should not be forced to work against their will by threats of violence, fines or imprisonment," she says. "But that's exactly what's happening in this case and in the case of all other public sector workers who are denied the right to strike. They are being denied a fundamental democratic freedom."
Cormack says the health authorities and the provincial government are using Alberta's labour law to avoid addressing the serious issues that nurses have brought to the table - like concerns over under-staffing, declining morale and inadequate compensation.
"The experience of the 1988 nurses strike proves that you can't find solutions by imposing injunctions and levying fines," says Cormack. "This kind of unnecessarily aggressive approach to bargaining won't stop a strike and it certainly won't do anything to address the crisis in our health care system."
In the short term, Cormack says the solution to the problem lies with the provincial government. She says more money has to be given to the regional health authorities so they can hire more nurses and increase their compensation. In the long term, Cormack says something has to be done with Alberta's labour laws.
"The labour laws in this province are backward and punitive. Far too many workers are being denied the right to strike - which is a fundamental democratic right recognized by the United Nations. Our leaders are going to have to acknowledge that criminalizing strike activity does nothing to solve problems in the workplace."
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, AFL President @ (780) 499-6530 (cell)