Life moves pretty fast and we have so many changes coming at us: in our communities, our province, with our families and definitely within our union.
We are reaching out to our members, allies, and partners and yes, to employers every day, to keep a close eye on what is happening. Whether it’s the regular work of meetings, grievances, negotiations and workplace safety – or bigger changes that have the potential to affect all of us in both the public and private sectors.
This is an opportunity to dig deep to find the meaning of true solidarity and support one another. We had that rare opportunity on March 8, International Women’s Day (IWD). While offering a moment to recognize the incredible women who have made us, shaped us or guided us, IWD marked an incredible event within the Saskatchewan labour movement. By now, most of you will have seen or heard reports of the Rally for Saskatchewan (#Rally4SK) held at the Legislature in Regina. This was an event for public sector workers and those who support those public services to stand together in a show of strength for the building and protection of those services.
Public services are under threat now like never before. Whether it’s the threatened partial sell-off of SaskTel, or a massive (and ballooning) deficit of $1.2 billion dollars, or ‘invitations’ to all those within the public sector to join the government in finding wage reductions of 3.5%, or musings about layoffs and service cuts, we need to recognize that the services we enjoy from the Crowns, or health care, or education should not be taken for granted. We need to stand up to stop these things from disappearing from our communities and our province.
We pay for these services through our current taxation… so we should be able to access them when needed. But if we start starving them of funding or sell off those Crowns that generate revenue, our taxes won’t go down… we’ll simply pay more in the form of user fees. I know that the wait lists for health care services are not ideal; but shouldn’t we be looking at investing in those services to improve them, rather than privatize or reduce overall access?
This deficit is a crisis, however it has not been created by public sector workers. There’s an old saying “never let a good crisis go to waste.” Sadly, our government is using the excuse of a financial deficit to sell us on the idea that we have no choice but to make big changes. Transformational change will not be temporary in nature (until oil, gas and potash revenues bounce back). The contemplated changes are something different, something bigger and certainly more permanent in nature; they will weaken or eliminate our public services in a fundamental way forever. These changes are about teaching people to expect less from our provincial government and the public services they provide. The government wants us to start thinking that “it’s not the government’s job to ensure that everyone has access to quality health care, quality education or quality public services… that’s between you and the private sector.”
But in Saskatchewan, our public services are the heart and soul of this province. It’s in our DNA to support and share in both the gain and the pain. And that’s what public services allow us to do: we all pay a little so no one has to pay a lot. In the American systems, it’s up to the individual to pay a lot – depending on what a public provider charges. And if they don’t offer the services in your small town or community, well, that is too bad – it’s not the government’s fault.
These musings about public policy and fundamental shifts in how we operate our province are a knee-jerk reaction to their crafted deficit. This is bad, don’t get me wrong, but surely we should pause in a moment of crisis like this, and develop a comprehensive plan to dig ourselves out of the hole? This should be the time that we all band together – workers, unions, employers; public and private sector; government and opposition – to make a plan for our future. This deficit didn’t happen overnight and we shouldn’t expect it to be fixed overnight or over the course of one year. Saskatchewan people know the boom/bust cycle. We also know the true test of good government is how you manage the bad times.
Education Sector – Transformational Change:
We continue to await the report of the advisory panel on the future of the public school boards. The province is contemplating a series of options provided by Dan Perrins, which includes the elimination of elected school boards (appointed by government instead) and creating one provincial public school division for the whole province.
We are not in favour of these options and instead have suggested that the status quo provides more local input and control over our kids’ education. We believe that elected school boards are more appropriate because democracy flourishes at the grass roots level. (Ironically, the current Minister of Education, Don Morgan, began his political career as an elected school board member in Saskatoon!) We also believe that parents having knowledge, input and participation at the local level provides for engaged families and communities.
Healthcare – Transformational Change:
- The consolidation of IT services under eHealth is continuing. What exactly that means is unclear. When we have inquired, we were told that current processes between eHealth and the health regions will continue. Given that we are not entirely sure what that means, we have pursued setting up a meeting with the health system transition team and eHealth to get some answers for our members. The Transition Team has added another member, Denise Junek, who is responsible for IT/Information Management changes.
- We are pursuing the idea of a formal bargaining council with our coalition partners, SGEU and CUPE. We’ve talked with many of you about this as a potential and there is commitment to this idea as a way to stabilize the health care workforce and also continue to build on our coalition bargaining. We’ve received a number of presentations from groups who have built this model from all across the country and the feedback is quite positive.
- The updates from the Transition Team are not exactly chock full of information…and that’s why we are working to set up regular meetings with the team or a part of the team. We know our members expect us to not only bargain good agreements, but be vocal advocates for our members and the services they provide. And that’s what we intend to do.
Stay in touch with your union: watch the website – write us with your questions. Sign up for email updates; follow us on Facebook…we will do our best to be where you are. Because we need you to walk that path of solidarity with us.