At HSAA, We’re Here for You.

While you provide for the health and safety of Albertans, you can rest assured that your Union will always be looking out for your best interests.

The Right
To Strike

You've probably heard about it on the news or through a friend or coworker, but do you know what the right to strike means for you as an HSAA Member?

First and foremost, it's important to recognize that this new legislation enhances your rights as Albertan workers by making available to you an option that was previously banned.

To ensure your peace-of-mind, HSAA will be working hard to educate members on what their new rights mean at the workplace both today and into the future.

To properly understand what this right to strike entails, let's first recap the history.

How Did
We Get Here?

While the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives all Canadian workers the right to strike, the province of Alberta has upheld a long-standing ban on public-sector strikes. That is until 2015, when a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada found that blanket bans on strikes were contrary to the Canadian charter, and that the Alberta government was required to update their labour legislation.

On March 15, 2016, the Alberta government introduced Bill 4 (An act to implement a supreme court ruling governing essential services). The legislation was passed in April and came into force at the end of May.

the Point?

There's much more to the work HSAA members perform than the right to fair compensation; lives are literally at stake.

Therefore, Bill 4 aims to provide a reasonable balance between the need to always protect the health and safety of Albertans, and the right for workers to withdraw their labour as a means of securing a fair collective agreement.

This new legislation provides a framework for employers and unions to work together to define which essential services will be maintained during a strike or lockout.

And when it comes to ensuring your interests are properly represented - you can rest assured that HSAA is here for you!


What does essential services mean when it comes to a strike?

According to Bill 4, essential services are:

"Those services:

  • The interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the public; or
  • That are necessary to the maintenance and administration of the rule of law and public security.”

Which health-care workers are affected?

Essential-services legislation applies to Alberta Health Services (AHS) approved hospitals and AHS’ EMS health-care labs (including Calgary lab services and DynaLIFE); in blood services and continuing care facilities. Click here a full list of approved hospitals.

In general terms, if you don’t work for AHS, approved hospitals or AHS EMS, you’re not covered under this legislation and you continue to have the right to strike, just like before. The exception to this are employees of private ambulance operators who have in their collective agreement a process called compulsory arbitration that does not allow strikes or lockouts.

Who determines which employees are considered essential?

Employers and unions negotiate essential-services agreements (ESAs), determining which services and workers are to be considered essential, rather than having the government impose something from above.

If the parties cannot agree on the terms of an ESA, the negotiations can be facilitated by an umpire. An Essential Services Commissioner will ultimately ensure that the negotiated agreement complies with the standards set out in the legislation.

What does this mean for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) workers?

There will be negotiations between HSAA and AHS to determine essential staffing service levels. However, private rural ambulance operators are being classified as essential under the new law and will not have the right to strike because their bargaining units are much smaller.

What does the ban on replacement workers in Bill 4 mean?

A replacement worker is a person, paid or not, who is hired by the employer or supplied to the employer by another person for the purpose of performing work done by bargaining-unit members who are on strike or locked out. You may have heard them referred to as “scabs.”

(Note: Out-of-scope employees and management are allowed to work and perform in-scope duties.)

Will the new legislation make strikes more likely?

Writing for the University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute blog, Dr. Bob Barnetson, a professor of labour relations at Athabasca University, says that “while it will be easier for public-sector workers to strike (since it is no longer illegal), it is unlikely that we’ll see a huge increase in public-sector strikes and lockouts … strikes and lockouts entail significant financial and reputation risks for both sides. This compels unions and employers to grapple with whether the costs of a strike or lockout is really worth the potential gains.

“Typically, this dynamic heightens the willingness to compromise by both sides. That is to say, the threat of conflict often reduces the likelihood of it actually happening.”

What does an ESA contain and who determines what is in it?

The ESA will feature the principles that both parties agree are part and parcel of the agreement in the event of a strike or lockout as well as addendums to address the essential services that must be maintained at each site, broken down further by departments, units, disciplines and the detailed levels of service to be provided at that site.

What happens if the union and the employer do not agree?

The Alberta legislation has built in a disputes resolution process in the event that we are unable to agree. We have the assistance of an “umpire” basically a mediator, to provide timely resolutions. For our AHS and Covenant agreements the parties have agreed on John Moreau. If we are unable to agree on an Umpire the ES Commissioner would appoint one.

What happens if the schedule doesn’t work, if we are struggling to meet the urgent needs or something changes?

The ESA is a fluid document and can be changed if there are indications that higher levels of staffing are required or hours need to be increased to ensure the health and safety of the public. We would work with the Employer and potentially an umpire to adjust the ESA.

If I’m scheduled to work under the agreement and I have to cross the picket line will people consider me a “scab”?

No, it is important that all the members understand that members will be scheduled to work and that they must comply with that, they do not have an option. As one person put it; their heart is on the picket line with their co-workers but their head and hands have to be at work.

Is it possible that some people that are scheduled will be on call instead of actively working? If they are on-call, can they be on the picket line during their on-call time?

Yes, in some cases the work that is urgent can be covered by members being on-call or stand-by and they will be allowed to be on the picket line while they are on-call. Like a typical on-call situation they need only be ready and willing to respond to a call-back in a timely manner.

We are already overworked, are we still going to have to see all the patients which in our case are all urgent with less people?

In some cases, there will be no reduction of the staff, the hours, or the work, so there would be no decrease of services.

Are there any groups with HSAA that are not allowed to strike at all even with an ESA? And why are they different?

Yes. For example, the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) at sites that are contracted to AHS do not have the right to strike. If they are unable to get a Collective Agreement they cannot go on strike even with an ESA and they would be using the Interest Arbitration process.

Are we going to be all alone at our sites, are there going to be people to help set it up, do signs up etc.?

HSAA will be working with the Local Unit Executive, Stewards and staff from HSAA to support the needs of the membership during any work stoppage whether that be a strike or lockout. And of course, asking for support from other unions. Which includes that other Unions’ members should not be doing or asked to be doing the work that is done by the HSAA members that are in the strike or lockout action.

This is what we would also do if another union was experiencing a strike or lockout action.

Where can I find out more information?

To find the most up-to-date information, please visit

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