CALGARY -- The Alberta government plans to cut the equivalent of 9,700 full time health service jobs in an effort to save $600 million annually.

As many of the employees affected are part-time workers, the actual number of layoffs could rise.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the cuts will not affect front-line medical staff including nurses and doctors.

Tyler Shandro

In a press conference Tuesday morning, Shandro said the majority of jobs lost will come from outsourcing jobs in laboratories, housekeeping, food services, and laundry.

Shandro estimated that approximately 800 jobs will disappear due to attrition.

Another 4,000 housekeeping jobs, 3,000 food service jobs, 2,000 laboratory jobs, 400 laundry jobs and at least 100 management jobs are also expected to be axed in the proposed cuts.

"68 per cent of laundry services in Alberta and, if we look at in the north of the province, 70 per cent of community lab services are currently delivered by the private sector, under contract," said Shandro. "AHS has also been given permission to develop business cases for contracting out, environmental services like housekeeping in 2022 and food preparation for consideration in 2023."

Shandro claims most workers will not actually lose their jobs in the transition to privatization.

"Contracting out isn't a reduction in employment," explained Shandro. "For most cases, it's this is a matter of workers just changing their employer from AHS to the (private) provider."

Reaction: swift and fierce

“They (support staff) are the backbone of the health care system without which the doctors and nurses wouldn't be able to do  their job, and obviously, we've seen that they they're absolutely worthless to this this government, and to Alberta Health Services," said Guy Smith, President of the Alberta Union of Public Empoyees, whose members comprise the largest number of affected workers.

“Obviously we're going to do everything we can to fight these job losses," Smith added, "at the bargaining table and in the streets. Our members are preparing for strike to protect jobs.”

The Health Services Association of Alberta (HSAA) didn’t go as far, but the president of the union representing laboratory workers said many of the skilled lab staff will likely leave the province, or the profession rather than face pay and benefit rollbacks in a privatized system.

HSAA president Mike Parker also expressed doubts that the government will see any long-term savings.

“Will this truly be a savings? I doubt it. And it's going to cost if you look back historically, an immense amount of cash to try and bring it all back in house in 10 years, as this cycle just keeps going around and going around, “said Parker

“All they're doing," he added, "is kicking this can down the street right now,and they're not taking responsibility.  His (Jason Kenney's) health minister is not taking accountability. He's just dumping it off on a private for-profit service, in the hopes that he saves this money.”

Nurses: don't feel jobs are safe

In a press release shortly after Shandro’s announcement The United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) said they don’t believe his claim that nursing jobs are safe. UNA Labour Relations Director David Harrigan noted that several times Shandro referred to eliminating nursing positions through attrition.

“So whatever they have in mind, this once again throws health care in Alberta into chaos, right in the middle of the largest health care emergency in a century,” said Harrigan “There is nothing to prevent this government from prematurely declaring the pandemic to be over whenever it pleases, so this is a relatively meaningless promise.”

Shandro said changes in the workforce could start next spring, but changes to the labs may not come into effect until February 2022, when a contract with (current provider)  Dynalife ends.

Contracting out laundry services could begin as early as next April.

The Ernst and Young report had recommended even deeper cuts, amounting to 16,000 lost jobs.

Rachel Notley

More cuts after the pandemic: Notley

Alberta opposition leader Rachel Notley is convinced the UCP led provincial government is intent on cutting an additional 5,000 jobs comprising mostly of front line workers.

“We don't believe for one second, that Jason Kenney and Tyler Shandro are actually going to stop at the 11,000 workers that they identified today," Notley said. "The other 5000 workers, part of the 16,000 that were originally identified, I believe, will be in the crosshairs once the pandemic is is completed.”

“Why do I think that?" she asked. "Tyler Shandro would not say that those other 5000 clinical frontline workers jobs would be protected, going forward.”

Notley went on to say she expects the cuts to further undermine support for the UCP government, whose popularity according to a September AngusReid poll dropped from 55 per cent when elected to 38 per cent in that same poll. Three-in-five Albertans say the government has done a poor job in handling health care in the province.

“It is a turning point in Alberta history," she said. "And I think that all Albertans are going to be very, very upset, because this was the exact opposite from what Jason Kenney committed to Albertans when he asked them for his vote, or for their vote a mere 18 months ago.”

Shandro said the government scaled back the cuts because of the current pandemic response. He did not say the additional cuts have been shelved, only that they are being delayed

Shandro said the expected cost savings from Tuesday’s announcement will not be fully recognized until the end of 2023, or into 2024