Op-Ed: Public Health Care System Needs More Staff

For Immediate Release - February 7, 2020

Saskatchewan people take pride in our role as the pioneers of Medicare. But the public health care system we take for granted has reached a critical point.

Our population is growing and aging, with increasingly complex care needs. Our governments have not made the necessary investments to serve these growing needs. Federal health transfers have not kept pace, and provincial funding remains driven by the ongoing narrative of a tight fiscal budget. 

This growing imbalance between needs and funding has become critically apparent on the front lines, in the form of understaffing.

As a quick fix for budget pressures, health managers are routinely leaving positions vacant when staff quit or retire, or not replacing staff who are on leave. They also refuse to add baseline staff to units whose numbers and needs have increased. The result: crushing workloads that put the health and safety of patients, clients, residents and health care workers at risk.

Urgent action is needed to fix this crisis. And the opportunity and responsibility to act belongs to all of us.

Cape’s Corner

We recently held our kick off for the renewal of SEIU-West committees. Each committee had discussions about improvements to worker safety and how this goal might fit into their future work. Worker safety has been a regular theme this year for the work done within SEIU-West.


When you think about it, so much of our work flows to and from worker safety: educating and mobilizing around the three rights (the Right to Know; the Right to Participate; the Right to Refuse); building knowledge and skills with young workers, new Canadians, and more seasoned staff; providing awareness about avenues to become involved and active within the scope of workplace safety; and combating racism, discrimination and stereotypes that affect the emotional and mental wellbeing of all of our members.


The committees have been tasked with how they will incorporate worker safety into their work over the next two years. And I’m excited to see the innovative ways that they reach out to build our membership with that goal in mind. Our committees are:  


  • Aboriginal
  • Education
  • Member Organizing
  • Nursing Care
  • Political Action & Awareness
  • Retirees
  • Worker Safety
  • Workers of Colour
  • Young Workers


These committees are comprised of members from every sector we represent: industrial and allied, education, community-based organizations, retirement homes, and health care. We want to ensure that our members have opportunities to engage with and help lead our union. We should also be looking at how we build a wider movement to encompass people whose principles and beliefs align with ours.

  This is the work of our union beyond bargaining, grievances and arbitration…it builds on our vision of a more just and humane society. Each       one of our committees has brought forward something unique: great opportunities, radical ideas, strong advocacy, and solid history…I look   forward to seeing what they accomplish over the next two years.

President's Message - Put Care First!

Sisters and Brothers,

Your Provincial Contract Action Team (ProCAT) is looking to ramp up our efforts to demand fairness and safety in health care.

We’ll be looking to our members to help ensure their communities are aware of the severe understaffing happening in health care.

A fair contract would definitely help.

If you are interested in setting up a Put Care first end understaffing event (i.e. info picket, leafleting, etc.) in your community, reach out to your ProCAT member or use the event request form to let us know.

We will provide the resources such as leaflets, necessary funding, checklists, etc. but it is vital to have a local unit members engaged and involved.

We all have to work together to keep up the pressure so we can successfully resolve this collective agreement.

Please remember to show your support for our bargaining efforts.  You can contact the Minister of Finance, Donna Harpauer (306) 787-6060 OR [email protected];  the Minister of Health, Jim Reiter (306) 787-7345 OR [email protected]; the new Minister of Rural and Remote Health, Warren Kaeding (306) 798-9014 OR [email protected]; or your very own MLA. Explain to them the need for a fair offer; and how an adequate monetary package is necessary to recruit and retain quality staff. You can also send a letter to your MLA with a simply click on our www.EndUnderstaffing.ca campaign. If you would like some assistance, call the MRC at 1-888-999-7348 extension 1 and an officer will put you in contact with someone who will help you.

Remember we’re all in this together!

Please keep an eye on the SEIU-West website and your union bulletin board. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for information updates.

In solidarity,

Barbara Cape, SEIU-West President 

Open Letter to Premier Scott Moe: We Need A New Deal with Health Providers

On October 31, 2019, SEIU-West President Barb Cape sent the below open letter to Premier Scott Moe. Click here to view the signed letter

Dear Premier Moe:

RE: A New Deal with Health Providers

On October 22, the day after the federal election, you issued an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau titled “A New Deal with Canada”.

In it, you issued an urgent challenge to the Prime Minister to make good on his commitments to better address the needs and concerns of Saskatchewan people.

In that same spirit, I issue this urgent challenge to you: be fair to those who care.

Over the past several years, your government, through the health sector employers it mandates and funds, has neglected the basic needs of thousands of workers who provide the vast majority of front-line health care services to Saskatchewan people. This strategy has resulted in chronic understaffing in the health care sector, to the detriment of patients, clients and residents. I ask you now to put care first.
In ratification votes held this spring in the former Saskatoon, Five Hills, Cypress and Heartland Health regions, SEIU-West’s 12,000 members soundly rejected the employer’s offer of 0%/0%/1%/2%/2%. In bargaining since then, the employer, with direction from the Ministry of Health, has stubbornly refused to budge from this offer.

The sense of frustration and alienation among our members is now greater than it has been at any point since 2008, when the Government of Saskatchewan introduced essential services legislation which seriously undermined bargaining rights in the public sector—legislation later struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

In the Throne Speech, your government committed “to invest in important government services that provide a better quality of life for all Saskatchewan people.” Those are pretty words, but we need action, not words.

It’s time, Mr. Premier, for a new deal with SEIU-West health care providers.

The Throne Speech mentions a new plan for growth, but says little about planning for the effects of growth. If, as promised, Saskatchewan’s population grows to 1.4 million by 2030, its health care needs will grow as well. Do you have a plan to attract and retain the additional health providers needed to meet the growing health care needs of this larger population? Shouldn’t we begin working on that plan now?

The speech boasts of facilities built and professionals hired, but doesn’t even acknowledge the need for additional health care providers in order to run these facilities. It ignores a basic fact: health care in Saskatchewan, including long-term care and home care, depends on the hard work of tens of thousands of workers who are not physicians or registered nurses. The wages of these workers have not kept pace with the rising cost of living. The intransigent bargaining mandate directed to the employers by your Ministry of Health offers current and prospective health care providers no hope that this will change. It is a glaring example of the lack of institutional, financial, educational and emotional support currently faced by health care provider employees. They have consistently expressed to me their overwhelming frustration at being asked by your government to take zeroes, particular when Members of the Legislative Assembly (whose pay has increased by more than 50% since 2007) are not being asked to do the same.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority’s list of “hard to recruit” positions is growing. Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon--the province’s major tertiary care centre, and a critical resource for the adjacent Children’s Hospital—is reporting dangerous levels of overcrowding and understaffing. Many of our rural units report that the Employer simply cannot recruit Continuing Care Assistants to care for residents which lends to a fear of bed closures. How do you propose to recruit and retain health providers to work in understaffed facilities that are experiencing shockingly high rates of workplace injury and violence?

Premier Moe, if you are serious about providing a better quality of life for all Saskatchewan people, here is what you could do right away:

1. Re-evaluate the staffing levels in the health care system (acute, long-term care, homecare and community services) and look at investing more in front-line staff to provide the quality hands-on care needed;

2. For example, through your Health Minister, direct those bargaining on behalf of the Saskatchewan Health Authority that they are no longer bound by the mandate containing zeroes, and urge them to bring to the table a more innovative offer that better meets the needs of our members who are health care providers to ensure a timely address to ongoing retention and recruitment challenges.

I am ready to meet with you at any time to discuss how we can move forward together on these issues. You have indicated that you are Standing Up for Saskatchewan. Our members are ready for you to demonstrate your commitment.


Barbara Cape

President's Message: What does Labour Day mean to you?

This President's Message will be featured in the Star Phoenix and Leader Post as a special feature for Labour Day. 

What does Labour Day mean to you?

For some people, this is back to school time; for others, it’s an unofficial end to summer; but for me, I reflect on the work of our members and the people we serve. I also reflect on the history of our labour movement – where we were, where we are today and what we want to do in the future.

Lately, it’s been a little too easy to vilify unionized workers. I think that’s a cheap and easy target. And it needs to stop.

The benefits that unions have negotiated didn’t happen overnight but over decades. And we work to ensure that the benefits we have negotiated are shared with those who don’t yet have a union: weekends; sick leave; disability insurance; domestic violence leave; improvements to minimum wage… all of these things (and so many more) come from years of negotiations and lobbying by unions of every stripe. All working people put their maximum effort into their job and that needs to be recognized and respected. 

Today, all workplaces are changing. There are efficiency efforts; automation; downsizing; or ‘transformational change’ that affects everyone’s ability to bring home a pay cheque, support our families, or even simply to have meaning to our lives. Change is inevitable, but it needs to be thoughtful. Working people are not widgets but they are invested in their workplaces and loyal to their employers. We need to remember that they are a vital resource that is being overlooked in many cases; there needs to be consultation with front line staff who are the experts in their area and can provide valuable insight into improvements.

Trade unions must embrace new forms of technology and new forms of worker organizations to create space for the gig economy and a changing demographic. As a union leader, I believe that there is a way to celebrate and acknowledge our historical work, while embracing a more culturally diverse and technologically advanced workforce.

The future of our province and our labour movement is in the hands of working people. We have an opportunity to join together, have a voice in our workplaces, lobby for improved safety legislation and to improve the minimum wage for both young workers and the under employed. The principles of solidarity, understanding and being our brother’s and sister’s keeper need to be re-affirmed by all of us. These are core values of the labour movement, and the province of Saskatchewan.

I’m personally inviting you to join us in our efforts to improve the lives of working people and their families. Help lead the way to a more just and humane society that welcomes all people, champions dignity and respect, and allows everyone to have a voice on the job and in society.

We’re Stronger Together.

Happy Labour Day!

In solidarity,

Barb Cape 

President's Message: Response to the Minister of Finance

Recently, SEIU-West launched a campaign to raise the issue of understaffing in health care. We want to ensure that our patients, clients and residents have the necessary staff in all aspects of our system in order to live up to a promise of safe, professional world class health care that puts the patients first. But without the necessary staff in place, that promise can’t be kept. 

We are reaching out to the staff in health care and people who access to our health care system, in order to build a demand for investment in front line health care providers.  We are also reaching out to the general public in order to educate and motivate them to join us in this campaign. 

Recently, the Minister of Finance, Donna Harpauer began responding with quite possibly the most glaring example of missing the point! In her template replies, she attempts to justify the wages paid to elected MLA’s ($98,000+) as a base salary in comparison to wages paid to front line health care staff. So let’s take a look:

  • The MLA base wage is $98,395.00/year. They received a 3.5% cost of living increase last year, and a 2.3% cost of living adjustment again on April 1 of 2019. Minister of Finance missed the point because health care workers don’t have that as a base salary and don’t get automatic wage increases based on cost of living increases!
  • The Board of Internal Economy sets the increases. The Minister of Finance missed the point because this is essentially the MLA’s (and Speaker) establishing their own wage increases!
  • This amount doesn’t address the additional allowances received for everything from Legislative Secretary to committee Chair/co-chair to Speaker to Premier to…well, you get the idea! Health care workers don’t get those kinds of allowances for additional duties – extra duties just get rolled into our everyday work! The Minister of Finance missed the point that we are required to do more, with less…less wages, less staff, and less support!
  • This campaign is about ending understaffing and investing in front line health care staff. The Minister of Finance missed the point when she failed to address this as the core issue in the campaign and instead justified MLA salaries!

I get it, Minister Harpauer seems to believe that there is a false equivalency between comparing the critical work of front line health care workers with elected politicians. But the irony isn’t lost on any of us that there isn’t a shortage of people running for elected office while there is a clear shortage of staff in front line health care.

If you have received this reply from our Minister of Finance, we urge you to join the many others who have sent her a second message indicating that she missed the point: we need real answers, and real action.

We want to get down to the work of providing safe, professional health care services, so let’s focus on the issue of staffing, instead of justifying politician wages.  We’ve called for a roundtable to talk about staffing levels with government, the Saskatchewan Health Authority and the unions representing people. And we encourage you to share the safe staffing campaign with your neighbours, friends, family and colleagues…our system depends on it! Together, our province can make sure patients, residents, clients, and health care providers have access to a safe and quality health care system – together, we can put care first.

In solidarity,

Barbara Cape

Cape's Corner: Summer 2019

This summer, you’ll be seeing SEIU-West billboards prominently displayed across the province as we renew our focus on safety. Whether you work in the health, community-based organization (CBO), education, or within our private and allied sectors, we have heard firsthand too many of our members are trying to get the job done with too few staff.

At our May Convention, themed Together Strong Together Safe, delegates were able to talk about the need for safer workplaces. We urged members and guests to provide advice about what to do when faced with an unsafe work environment. Moving forward, we have introduced a member education session about occupational health and safety. There is a clear demand: we all want to improve safety for our patients, clients, residents, and students.

These billboards connect readily with the CBO campaign where we join with other unions (SGEU and CUPE) to highlight the need for stable and predictable multi-year funding in this sector. This is the purpose of the 'Sask People Who Care' campaign which urges members of the general public to sign an online petition in recognition of the valuable work done in this sector for residents and clients who are in most need. We encourage every one of our members to collect signatures on the paper petition over the summer and return them (with original signatures) to one of our offices in September so they can be submitted in the fall sitting of the Legislature.

Our Provincial Contract Action Team (ProCAT) will be coming out to facilities across the province to promote our on-line and billboard campaign. We ask SEIU-West health care providers to share the message 'Be Fair to Those Who Care' and engage the general public to support health care providers. As part of creating a safe health care system, the rates of pay must keep up with the cost of living – so that we can retain and recruit health care providers. Safe staffing is essential to keeping our patients, clients and residents safe.

Our members who work in the education sector have been faced with cuts to staffing in the classrooms and throughout the school system. Over the past few years, our provincial government has whipsawed the funding for this sector… but ultimately, leaving our schools and students in a deficit. Student enrollment continues to grow, but the staffing needed for kids who are new Canadians or who have special learning needs or need some extra support has stayed static or been reduced in school systems across the province. We believe that funding needs to be fully restored and further supplemented to create a safe, quality learning environment for everyone.

To amplify this message, we need your help. For the remaining months of the year, we are asking our members to tell us – in a short video (less than 10 seconds) –what you would do to make your workplace safer. Our goal is to raise awareness about the need for safety in Saskatchewan workplaces where injuries are among the highest in this country, and at the same time provide some solutions from the experts in the workplace – our members. If you are interested in being a part of this campaign, email [email protected]

It’s really quite simple – end understaffing.

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