Manitoba healthcare workers call for strike action

On the morning of June 1, the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals (MAHCP) went public with their intent to take strike action by June 15 if the negotiating parties haven’t reached an agreement before then.

Attempts at negotiation have been ongoing since March 2022. By May of this year, members of the MAHCP, representing 7,000 health professionals across the province, voted 99 percent in favour of a strike mandate.

Health professionals affected by the strike may include diagnostic imaging and laboratory technologists, scientists and pharmacists, rural paramedics and emergency medical dispatch, mental health and addictions counsellors, respiratory therapists, midwives, and more than 40 other specialized professionals.

“A strike is a last resort for us, but at this point we feel like we have no other option,” says MAHCP President Jason Linklater. “The staffing crisis gets worse every day. Allied health professionals have gone over five years without a contract. Manitoba can’t retain them, and we are out of time.”

According to the MAHCP, wages for these healthcare professionals have been frozen since 2017 while the cost of living has steadily risen. This has resulted in significant challenges for staff retention and recruitment across all healthcare fields.

Other provinces, such as Saskatchewan, have been providing their healthcare workers with wage increases and hiring and retention incentives over the years.

“We continue to lose highly specialized allied health professionals to other sectors and other provinces that are way ahead of us in wages and benefits,” Linklater says. “Manitoba has to start fixing this by giving them a reason to stay.”

The Effect on Rural Paramedic Services

The Paramedic Association of Manitoba (PAM) recently announced a shortage of 218 paramedics across the province. This equates to a shocking 30 percent vacancy rate among those professionals who provide these lifesaving services.

“With nearly one-in-three positions remaining unfilled, this mass shortage of paramedics puts a strain on the existing workforce, leading to increased workloads and burnout among those left covering, with potential to affect the quality of care provided to patients,” reads a statement from the PAM on Facebook.

Keith Bueckert, chief of Niverville Fire and EMS Services, says that his crew has been feeling the effects of the paramedic shortage for quite some time now. It’s not at all unusual for ambulance sites to shut down due to lack of staff on any given day.

Even so, the dedication and passion of the remaining paramedics is impressive, he adds, even in times when the risk of burnout is high.

Their services to our communities, Bueckert says, should not go unnoticed or underappreciated.

As for Bueckert’s team of volunteer EMS workers, he’s confident their work won’t be overly disrupted if a strike takes place. Bueckert himself, a firefighter-paramedic, works for the City of Winnipeg, which runs under a different union than MAHCP.

“Our service model won’t be disrupted here,” says Bueckert. “If we have members that are [available] and able to attend the call, we will be able to respond to those calls. We hope that this is a very short-term thing and we hope that the rural paramedics get what they’re asking for because they are overworked and they need help desperately.”

What to Expect from Healthcare in the Event of a Strike

In the case of essential healthcare professionals, services won’t shut down completely. They will keep running at a minimum level. This will cause significant delays and disruptions in every medical field.

Wait times are expected to increase and cancellations will likely occur for non-emergency diagnostics and surgeries. Lab results could be significantly slowed down and non-crisis mental health and addictions services could see backlogs.

Disruptions may also occur among services provided by physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists. With the exception of late-term or immediate postnatal care, midwifery services could also be affected.

Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Niverville Citizen

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