Finance Minister Travis Toews is urging fiscal restraint amid collective bargaining negotiations with Alberta's nurses.
"As we move beyond the peaks of the pandemic and into a more manageable period, we need to continue the important work of getting the province’s finances back on track," said Toews in a government press release.
He iterated that the province's finances are stretched thin and is asking for a 3 percent wage rollback that the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) claims is closer to 5 percent when additional benefits are added.
"AHS is offering job security to nurses, despite record unemployment in the province due to the pandemic," said Toews. "The past 16 months have put a considerable strain on the province, following already high levels of debt and deficit."
The UNA acknowledged that employers did return to current overtime provisions, transportation allowance and education allowances.
On average, Alberta nurses make 5.6 percent more than in other comparator provinces, costing Alberta approximately $141 million per year when there is a need to bring wages in line with other provinces.
According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, 614 nurses made more than the sunshine list barrier of $129,809. The highest-paid registered nurse receiving $240,058 in salary, premium pay and benefits, meaning the top hourly rate only accounted for 39 percent of total compensation.
In light of ongoing negotiations, Toews praised the work of nurses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, citing the "invaluable role" they had in helping the province emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. But expressed that Alberta could no longer be an outlier.
He made it clear that these concerns did not diminish the Alberta government's "deep respect" for the exceptional work and dedication of public sector workers. "It is simply reflective of our fiscal reality and one that many sectors in the province have experienced," he said.
"An additional $5.1 billion was spent in response to COVID-19 and to support the Alberta Recovery Plan, which included $1.5 billion in health care spending. This is above and beyond the $23 billion Health expense in Budget 2021 – the largest single-year investment in health care in Alberta’s history."
In 2019-20, Alberta spent $27.3 billion on public sector compensation, representing 54 percent of the province's operating budget.
Toews remains hopeful that AHS and UNA will bargain in "good faith" to ensure health care workers are treated fairly while being respectful of the province’s fiscal reality.