New OT rules ire staff

A letter from Alberta Health Services outlines new overtime rules.

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

A letter obtained by the South Peace News, posted to everyone in the Alberta Health Services North Zone and dated Dec. 18 in handwriting, announces changes to overtime approval for front-line workers such as nurses.

The letter says staff on shift will no longer be able to authorize overtime; overtime for missed breaks will no longer be granted; and replacements for staff will only be compensated with straight time.

The North Zone is geographically the largest AHS health zone in Alberta.

Multiple sources contacted South Peace News expressing outrage at what they view as a likely contravention of their collective agreements. Sources also raised concerns about the effect on patient care.

All of the sources wish to remain anonymous out of fear for their jobs, especially with likely upcoming cuts to front-line staff.

Government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services [AHS] recently sent letters to unions warning that thousands of health-care positions could be cut over the next three years, including hundreds of front-line nursing jobs, in order to get the province’s fiscal house in order.

Sources agree the letter means in practical terms that absent workers won’t be replaced if it will result in having to pay someone overtime, whether someone is absent due to being sick or on vacation.

“I’m mostly concerned about patient safety because we’ve been saying for years that it’s unsafe staffing levels, but the nurses [and some doctors] manage to do inhuman things to save patients at the detriment of their own mental health, i.e. burnout,” says one source. “It’s going to get so much worse with close calls.”

“This ultimately means that we will be working with less staff on the units and expect to carry on business as usual,” says another source.

“Sad thing is, the people who need the services will suffer, when they suffer and loose their cool, the nurse bear the brunt of it.”

That source says the letter may also lead to unofficial job actions.

“Staff have already talked about refusing any extra shifts until this is withdrawn,” that source says.

“Newly hired RNs have already stated they will quit rather than end up working short/alone, especially on a night shifts.”

The same source also believes the change may violate collective agreements.

“For example, unit clerks have a provision in theirs that stipulates that no person outside of the bargaining unit will work their shifts unless none are available [doesn’t say none available at straight time] for LPNs there is a provision that states that there shall be someone on site at all times who may authorize over- time.”

AHS was not available for comment by press time.

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